By Mario Romao, Global Director, Health and Data Policy
April 10th was a big day for the digital ambitions of Europe. We saw leaders from 25 nations signing a Declaration of Cooperation on Artificial Intelligence (AI), committing to join forces to advance research and deployment of AI, without forgetting the social, economic, ethical, and legal aspects. And a couple of hours later the spotlight turned on genomics: 16 nations were about to sign (to be precise 13 signed and 3 committed to) a Declaration of cooperation towards the access of at least 1 million sequenced genomes in the European Union (EU) by 2022. Whilst the two signing ceremonies were held separately, they could as well have been done together. Access to data is as important for performing health systems as it is for performing AI healthcare implementations. For instance, researchers using Intel AI diagnosed heart conditions with greater accuracy than most doctors (check here if you want to know more about Intel AI solutions in healthcare and here if you are curious to learn what Intel thinks about public policy for AI).
The European Declaration on Genomics is at the core of precision medicine, which carries the promise of improved treatment results by tailoring the right therapeutic strategy according to the specific molecular profile of a patient. The availability of data from a large number of individuals increases the ability to research across a large number of diseases in different populations. This ultimately provides more information for understanding and planning the most adequate clinical care for a patient. This is an area where EU collaboration is crucial to building and expand upon national and European initiatives.
Intel and the European Alliance for Personalised Medicine (EAPM) had since long advocated across Europe for a supra national genomics initiative, nicknamed MEGA (Million European Genomes Alliance). Writing in magazine Biomedicine Hub, EAPM’s Working Group on Big Data (the writer of these words has the honour to chair EAPM’s working group on big data) put forward the argument for the project in an article entitled ‘Pulling the Strands Together: MEGA Steps to Drive European Genomics and Personalised Medicine’. This sets out the framework of why the European Union needs more collaboration rather than less, certainly in this field, bearing in mind that healthcare remains a Member State competence. Europe has formidable potential, but the expertise in the field is widely scattered, which makes it hard for Europe to compete on scale with the US and China. By signing this Declaration, countries recognise the need to join forces and move ahead.
The April 10th Declaration recognises that “Scaling up digital health and connected care and unlocking progress in implementing data-driven digital solutions requires a concerted effort to overcome data silos, lack of interoperability and fragmentation of initiatives across the EU,” and quite rightly does not forget to mention that compliance with the General Data Protection Regulation needs to be assured: “Coordinating secure access to data from >1M genomes that are linked to health data, as well as pooling analytical capabilities, in compliance with the General Data Protection Regulation, is crucial to advance the understanding of genetic associations that cause or predispose diseases.”
Welcoming the signature of the Declaration, European Commission’s Vice-President for the Digital Single Market Andrus Ansip and Commissioner for Digital Economy and Society Mariya Gabriel both said: “Health relies on digital innovation and cross-border interoperability. Secure access to genomic and other health data among Member States is essential for better health and care delivery to European citizens and to ensure that the EU will remain at the forefront of health research. The European Commission will facilitate this process and will continue to work with all Member States and interested parties on this matter.”
Intel is excited to see the vision of a MEGA alliance on genomics being shared by many EU countries and the European Commission and looks forward to continue contributing to this initiative that will surely bring immeasurable benefit to the health of current and future citizens across the EU.