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Philanthropic partnership unlocks £32 million for the future of best-in-class UK Biobank

By November 3, 2023No Comments

Former CEO and Chairman of Google Eric Schmidt, and Ken Griffin, founder and CEO of Citadel and founder of Griffin Catalyst, have been announced as the first members of a new consortium that will shape the future of the best-in-class UK Biobank, starting with £16 million funding matched by government.

Their donations will support UK Biobank to grow its already-unrivalled wealth of health data, 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 – the sort of uptake of AI in health and research being encouraged by the new AI Life Sciences Accelerator Mission, announced by the Prime Minister, last week.

UK Biobank is the world’s most significant resource for health research, and one of the country’s most important scientific assets. It is a database of in-depth genetic, health and lifestyle information from half a million UK volunteers, giving approved researchers worldwide access to an unparalleled source of data that is enabling medical breakthroughs, from treating cardiac disease to Alzheimer’s.

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, only made possible via analysis of UK Biobank’s genomic data. During the pandemic, UK Biobank data helped researchers deepen their understanding of how lifestyle and inherited factors impacted how patients were affected by COVID-19.

The more than £16 million ($20 million USD) being donated by Eric Schmidt and Ken Griffin will be matched by the government, which will provide up to £25 million in funding in total for the UK Biobank, provided that an equal amount of private and philanthropic donations are also secured. The ultimate aim is to achieve at least £50 million in contributions for UK Biobank.

Secretary of State for Science, Innovation and Technology Michelle Donelan said:

‘UK Biobank is one of the jewels in the crown of UK science, making an unparalleled contribution to improving everyone’s health through the sheer scale of information it puts at researchers’ fingertips.

‘We are determined to ensure that it can continue to support life-changing breakthroughs, combining with new technologies like AI to help those suffering from arthritis, dementia and more. But this is about more than just putting up public funding: I want to unlock a new wave of private and philanthropic donations, right across our science and tech sectors.’

Unlocking greater private and philanthropic funding for UK R&D is one of the key objectives of The UK Science and Technology Framework, and partnerships with industry and philanthropists are already delivering for the UK’s science sector.

This pioneering new way of funding UK science and research builds on the approach of the Research Ventures Catalyst, launched in July, to open up new funding pathways that will enable our brightest minds to take greater risks and pursue new means of working that might not be supported via traditional avenues. By working in partnership with private and philanthropic funders, we will unlock tens of millions of pounds to drive new discoveries in health, tech and science.

The consortium being unveiled today will deliver a transformative investment into UK Biobank’s future research capacity. This builds on the £154 million 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.

Schmidt and Griffin are providing this funding on a philanthropic basis to UK Biobank because the study’s breadth of data, long-term follow-up of health outcomes, and accessibility to researchers worldwide make it a unique resource to help the scientific community better understand a wide range of common and life-threatening diseases.

Delivering new, innovative, agile models of funding such as these delivers on the government’s response to the findings of Sir Paul Nurse’s Landscape Review, and builds on the already-record levels of public sector commitment to spending on R&D. This government has committed to invest £20 billion in R&D in 2024 to 2025.