Recently, DDW reported on how over three million people have been invited to join Our Future Health. Andrew Roddam, CEO of Our Future Health, shares the impact research programmes such as this will have on drug discovery.
Millions of people in the UK and around the world spend many years of their later life in poor health. Our Future Health aims to tackle this and help people live healthier lives for longer by creating the UK’s largest ever health research programme to prevent, detect and treat diseases.
By building a world-leading health research resource that truly reflects the UK population, the goal is to develop a more detailed understanding of what makes some people more likely to develop certain health conditions, so more effective treatments can be developed in the future.
Despite advances in healthcare and medicine, large numbers of people in the UK still spend many years of their later life in poor health – 59% of those aged 65 or older in the UK have two or more of the following conditions or impairments: arthritis, cancer, coronary heart disease, dementia, depression, diabetes, hypertension, respiratory disease, sight loss and stroke1. This is projected to reach 70% by 2035.
Too often, we treat diseases only when patients start showing symptoms. Only 55% of cancers are detected at stage 1 and 2, 850,000 people are currently living with undiagnosed type 2 diabetes2 and around 5.5 million people in England have undiagnosed high blood pressure3. This is a problem, because we know that diagnosing conditions at a later stage often leads to worse outcomes. If we can help researchers to develop new ways to detect and treat disease at an earlier stage and identify people who are at higher risk of disease, we can ultimately deliver better health outcomes.
A world-leading resource for health research
The scale of Our Future Health and its emphasis on treating diseases earlier has the potential to shift the focus of the drug discovery sector towards treatments that act on the earlier stages of disease. Our Future Health will collect information from millions of volunteers across the UK to create one of the most detailed pictures we have ever had of people’s health.
The programme aims to recruit up to five million adults who will provide a blood sample, complete a questionnaire and consent to us securely linking to their health records. Volunteers will also be asked to give their permission for Our Future Health to contact them in the future to give them the opportunity to take part in follow-on research and to offer them personal feedback about their health, if they wish to receive it.
Researchers working across the entire life sciences community, including academia, charities, industry and the NHS will be able to apply to use this information to discover more effective ways to prevent, detect and treat diseases and conditions such as cancer, Alzheimer’s, heart disease, arthritis, diabetes and stroke.
Polygenic risk scores
Polygenic risk scores will be calculated for all participants. They will then be given the option of receiving personalised risk assessments incorporating these scores and conventional risk factors. Our Future Health will generate evidence that will help us understand the impact of giving people personalised health and risk information and additionally who might then benefit from smarter, more targeted interventions and prevention approaches. The use of personalised risk information allows the identification and invitation of participants to take part in future research studies which will enable more targeted and hopefully efficient clinical development programmes.
Improving representation in health research
In the past, some groups have not had enough representation in health research. This includes people from Black communities, Asian communities and people from other minority ethnic groups. It also includes people living in less wealthy parts of the country – this is important to address as there are wide inequalities in health between the most and least deprived areas of the UK4. Women in the least deprived areas in England live a further 19.7 years in good health than those in the most deprived. For men – it’s 18.4 years.
By ensuring that a diverse range of people participate in Our Future Health, the aim is that drugs and treatments can be researched and developed to benefit everyone.
Members of the public across the UK can sign up to join Our Future Health at ourfuturehealth.org.uk.
About the author
Andrew Roddam, CEO of Our Future Health, is an internationally renowned epidemiologist who started his career as a statistician and has had a wide range of roles across both academia and industry, principally focused on the application of epidemiological methods to advance the understanding of human disease. During his career, Andrew has worked mostly in infectious agents and oncology, but his work has covered the spectrum of conditions from rare genetic diseases through to chronic diseases of old age.