The Li Ka Shing Centre for Health Information and Discovery
The Li Ka Shing Centre for Health Information and Discovery incorporates two related research institutes at the heart of the University of Oxford's major biomedical campus in Headington. The two research institutes, the Target Discovery Institute (TDI) and the Big Data Institute (BDI),underpin the development of new types of research activity in the University. They have been developed with novel concepts in mind and represent the first examples of these types of research endeavours in academia anywhere in the world.
To be successful, these institutes require innovative multidisciplinary science incorporating the work of molecular and cell biologists, chemists, statisticians, computer scientists, informatics specialists, engineers and clinical scientists. The Li Ka Shing Centre will house over six hundred scientists attempting to define disease more accurately, identify targets for novel drug therapy, utilise a wide range of datasets to better understand disease and response to therapy, and to realise some of the many benefits that will emerge from the genomics revolution.
The University of Oxford began to create this campus for its biomedical research activities in 1992 and it is now the largest campus in the Medical Sciences Division. It is positioned equidistant from activities in the new NHS Cancer Hospital, the Diabetes Centre and the musculoskeletal clinical service activities at the Nuffield Orthopaedic Centre, all within the Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust. The campus is also adjacent to the mental health activities housed at Warneford Hospital.
The campus has developed through a series of research institutes based around either platform technologies (genomics, epidemiology, bioengineering) or around therapeutic areas such as cancer and inflammatory joint disease. It now houses eight distinct institutes and more than 2000 scientists exploiting the unique collaboration opportunities offered by the campus and the adjacent hospitals.
Recognising the breadth and depth of this campus and the wider activities of the Medical Science Division in the UK and overseas, Oxford has been ranked, for the second year running, the Number One in the world for medical research, teaching and knowledge transfer (Times Higher Education World University Rankings).
Phase 1 of the Li Ka Shing Centre is now complete. This phase of the project, the Target Discovery Institute, was an idea conceived and developed by Professor Sir Peter Ratcliffe.
High throughput biology is capable of generating very large amounts of data and provides the opportunity to analyse biological pathways systematically in order to understand, at a fundamental level, how they could be manipulated to treat disease. One of the major challenges facing pharmaceutical companies is identifying and validating potential drug targets before launching hugely costly commercial drug discovery programmes.
The TDI was conceived to establish high throughput biological approaches, including genomics, proteomics, small molecule screening, structural genomics and computational biology, in an attempt to work in partnership with the pharmaceutical industry to define and characterise better drug targets. This is exemplified by the Structural Genomics Consortium. It operates an open innovation platform where it collaborates with a large number of major drug companies, currently attempting to use protein structures to better understand potential epigenetic targets for the treatment of cancer and inflammatory disease.
The TDI represents a new approach for academia interacting with industry and is already engaged with 10 major collaborations with pharmaceutical companies in the area of target discovery and validation.
Phase 2 of the Li Ka Shing Centre has been built on the high throughput biology activities in the TDI by creating an Institute directed at obtaining and characterising large datasets to improve our understanding of human disease.
The UK and Oxford are uniquely positioned to lead globally in this new, emerging field of biomedical science. We already have access to very detailed information from large patient cohorts such as the UK Biobank, and will ultimately have access to 50 million electronic patient records through the NHS. Plus, there is now much improved surveillance of infectious diseases that enables us to track prevalence and transmission globally.
Meanwhile, the phenomenal output from the human genome is providing ever deeper insights into health and disease, with large scale sequencing about to become routine. In addition, medical information from X-rays and scans or pathological sections also contain valuable information that historically has not been extracted. This information can now be digitised and analysed in new ways.
The success of the Big Data Institute depends heavily on the analytical skills available and the University's Departments of Statistics, Computing Science and Biomedical Engineering are likely to provide many of the capabilities needed to handle and interrogate these very large datasets.
The new approach to target discovery in the Target Discovery Institute, and the analytical capabilities around the ever-increasing number of large datasets in the Big Data Institute, provide unique opportunities to improve dramatically the quality of our healthcare from within the NHS and to work with industry to develop new products.
The traction already gained by the TDI with industry collaborators, and the opportunities to initiate a whole new sector of health informatics, diagnostics and clinical decisions supported through the Big Data Institute, makes the Li Ka Shing Centre a major hub for commercialisation and economic growth.
Importantly, the Li Ka Shing Centre for Health Information and Discovery has already established a global reach with close and evolving collaborations with Stanford University, a worldwide network of disease surveillance sites, and support from major funding agencies.
The Li Ka Shing Centre for Health Information and Discovery was made possible by a generous donation from the Li Ka Shing Foundation. It has the potential to transform our understanding, treatment and management of human diseases.