Chan Zuckerberg Initiative injects $10 million into US big data healthcare project

pharmafile | August 4, 2017 | News story | Medical Communications, Research and Development Big Data, Chan Zuckerberg initiative, biotech, drugs, healthcare, life sciences, medicine, pharma, pharmaceutical 

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and philanthropist Priscilla Chan have continued their quest to improve worldwide healthcare with the latest donation of $10 million to the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF)’s Institute for Computational Health Sciences.

Together with the donation, the pair have named the institute’s leader, Atul Butte, as Distinguished Professor. Butte’s work attempts to harness and utilise the “trillion points of data” established in the public sphere to improve healthcare initiatives in an R&D method termed ‘data recycling’. Uses for these data points could include improvements to patient safety measures and healthcare delivery, or investigating alternative applications for already FDA-approved medicines.

The institute has already had success with this methodology, proving that a drug originally approved to fight parasitic infection can be repurposed to treat liver cancer. To this end, the team have built a computational method, utilising public data, to identify and predict what other available medicines may also be applied to cancer treatment. This approach could mean big savings in the area of drug discovery, circumventing the need for costly clinical trials.

The institute has also utilised electronic health records to evaluate and improve diabetes treatment, using the findings to build a virtual glucose monitoring system. Utilised by UCSF physicians, the system was shown to eliminate hyperglycaemia in 40% of patients over three years. Now, the institute is currently engaged in a project to unify electronic health records from all of the University of California’s five medical centres – a total of 15 million records.

“This is among the richest and most diverse medical datasets in the world – much more than just a set of billing codes,” Butte said. “And, because the data come from our patients, the data are an incredible resource for UC hospitals to improve the quality of care we deliver throughout California.”

UCSF Chancellor Sam Hawgood added: “We are enormously grateful to Priscilla and Mark for their visionary gift supporting the work of Atul Butte, one of the world’s leading physician-scientists working at the frontier of big data. His leadership of the Institute for Computational Health Sciences is helping UCSF researchers, health care providers and the UC Health system as a whole to drive progress in the new world of data-driven medicine and science. We expect this to transform health, at the level of individuals and communities.”

Matt Fellows

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