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Big Data Center Launched at Oxford University

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – A new £90 million ($140.1 million) center for big data analysis and drug discovery at Oxford University was launched today.

Called the Li Ka Shing Centre for Health Information and Discovery, the new center will comprise the Target Discovery Institute, which will be developed during phase one, and the Big Data Institute, to be developed during the second phase of the center.

The Li Ka Shing Foundation is providing £20 million to support the creation of the center, while the Higher Education Funding Council for England is providing £10 million through the second round of its Research Partnership Investment Fund for the Big Data Institute building.

The Target Discovery Institute received £10 million in the first RFIP round, Oxford said.

When completed, the center will employ up to 600 scientists.

A new building has been completed to house the Target Discovery Institute in the £35 million first phase of the center. There, research will be carried out to generate data about disease using genomic and chemical screens with the goal of identifying drug targets that industry can then pursue.

Oxford said that poor target selection is a major reason for drug development failures in the pharmaceutical industry. The new institute will use new technologies for target identification, and then seek "to build new working practices with industry."

At the Big Data Institute, meanwhile, research will be conducted to develop approaches for generating, storing, and analyzing large datasets to better understand diseases and ways of treating them.

DNA sequencing, electronic patient records, comprehensive biological data on disease mechanisms, and other procedures have resulted in massive amounts of medical data, and as part of its mission, the Big Data Institute seeks to make "sense of large amounts of complex data, making the right comparisons to generate robust and useful answers, and ensuring the security of the data needs to protect personal privacy," Oxford said.

Research projects anticipated at the new center include those into genomic medicine as well as the use of genomics and other approaches in disease surveillance, and high-throughput and automated methods of accelerating the early stages of drug development.

"Big data will transform the way we treat patients and understand disease in the coming decades," Andrew Hamilton, vice-chancellor of Oxford University, said in a statement. "We are collecting much of this data already. We owe it to ourselves to make full use of it and deliver more effective treatments for all of us as patients. The Li Ka Shing Centre, and this enormously generous gift which underpins it, along with continued public investment, will be instrumental in driving this research forward."