UK Biobank is to scale its health database following a £32 million injection of funding.

The database of in-depth genetic, health and lifestyle information from half a million UK volunteers gives approved researchers worldwide access to a source of data that is enabling medical breakthroughs from treating cardiac disease to Alzheimer’s. 

Former CEO and chairman of Google Eric Schmidt, and Ken Griffin, founder and CEO of Citadel and founder of Griffin Catalyst, are the first members of a new consortium which will shape the organisation after donating more than £16m between them.

Matched by the government, the funding will seek to enable research unlocking the next great leaps in our understanding of health and disease.  

This could include using AI’s ability to rapidly analyse vast quantities of data to draw new insights from UK Biobank’s data, such as in the analysis of cancer samples. 

UK Biobank has supported ground-breaking advancements in healthcare, such as the development of a genetic test to detect people born with an increased risk of coronary heart disease. During COVID, its data helped researchers deepen their understanding of how lifestyle and inherited factors impacted how patients were affected by the pandemic.

“It is 15 years since we first saw our incredible half a million volunteers for their baseline assessments, with most of our participants engaging in follow-up analyses,” said Professor Sir Rory Collins, CEO and principal investigator of UK Biobank. 

“It is down to the dedication and altruism of each of our volunteers that we have been able to grow UK Biobank into the world’s most comprehensive database for scientific and health related research. 

“We are immensely grateful for today’s funding, which will allow us to pilot new projects that will add further depth to our already rich goldmine of data for scientific researchers everywhere. 

“UK Biobank data has already resulted in over 9,000 peer-reviewed papers, including studies looking into cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, depression, tinnitus and heart disease. 

“The research that we are helping to power is generating evidence which is relevant to everyone, from patients and carers to healthcare providers and practitioners everywhere.”

Schmidt said: “Scientific advancements have the potential to bring profound transformations to humanity for generations to come. 

“It is vital that we cultivate an environment that fosters and supports revolutionary applications of science and technology, such as UK Biobank, while creating opportunities for further innovation for public benefit.”

The ultimate aim is to achieve at least £50m in contributions for UK Biobank. It builds on the £154m investment in UK Biobank’s physical infrastructure, announced as part of the Chancellor’s £650 million ‘Life Sci for Growth’ warchest, which is supporting their move to a purpose-built new home at Manchester Science Park.

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