Last week, the MRC took part in the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Medical Research Summer Reception in the House of Commons. The focus of the event was unlocking the potential of data for medical research. So just how does data save lives? MRC Public Affairs Officer Louise Wren explains.
NHS patient records are a globally unique resource for research. Accessing this information safely and securely helps scientists to see disease patterns at a population level, look at the safety of drugs over long periods of time and uncover clues to predict who will develop a disease in the future. The aim of last week’s APPG event was to give MPs and peers more information about this type of research, and enable them to meet some of the scientists working in the area.
MRC Chief Executive Sir John Savill, one of the speakers at the reception, said that driving discovery from data is one of his main priorities. He mentioned that the UK not only has unrivalled patient data but also drug, biological and social data, and these are a hugely valuable resource for scientists. A streamlined regulatory process coordinated by the Health Research Authority — the planned single regulator of health research in the UK — would ensure that health benefits gained from data-driven research are brought to patients as quickly as possible, he added.
Tony Cox, a patient with Parkinson’s disease, gave an inspiring speech about the need to find biomarkers: substances in the body that can help predict who will develop the disease in the future. Opening NHS patient data for researchers would speed the search for biomarkers for all diseases, he explained, which would lead to “winners all round”.
Twenty-two research projects demonstrating the value of data for research were showcased at the event. The MRC presented a poster describing a study which used more than 700,000 anonymised patient records to show that people who happened to be taking cholesterol-lowering statins when they contracted pneumonia were less likely to die than those not taking the drugs. You can download our booklet which explains a bit more about the use of data and includes summaries of all of the research projects.
We had a fantastic turnout, including lots of MPs, peers and stakeholders from across the medical research community. We were also joined by Earl Howe, the health minister with responsibility for research. We hope that discussing these important issues with parliamentarians will help to ensure that scientists have better access to health data, enabling them to transform our understanding of conditions and improve health in the UK and around the world.
The APPG secretariat is provided by the MRC, the Academy of Medical Sciences, the Association of Medical Research Charities (AMRC), Cancer Research UK and the Wellcome Trust.
Download the summer reception booklet which explains more about the value of data and includes summaries of all the 22 research projects.