Precision Medicine Basel

The Canton offers start-up financing for a data coordination centre in Basel.

Data integration as a great challenge

The Apple-Watch, Fitbits, Jawbones and the like make it clear to everybody how digital transformation has finally reached our bodies with the help of sensors and other digital tools. They enable large amounts of data to be collected of each person’s fitness and behaviour (“quantified self”). The kick-off of digital transformation in health care has begun and is not limited to the sphere of our personal lives but is setting foot in the clinical environment of the hospital as well. Be it in terms of R&D for new therapies, the treatment of patients or the prevention of diseases, a good database is essential. While measurement and collection of clinical and molecular data is happening at an ever quicker pace at lower cost, there remain big challenges when it comes to integrating and interpreting the data in a sensible way. Only when the data can be made available in the right structure with the matching quality, will there be the necessary value-added for research purposes.

Data orchestra directs from Basel

Professor Torsten Schwede’s project at the Swiss Institute of Bioinformatics (SIB) is focusing on this point. Within the scope of the national initiative “Swiss Personalised Health Network”, a nationally uniform data organisation between university hospitals and technical universities is set-up through a data coordination centre. By standardising data structures, semantics and formats for data exchange, national interoperability shall be enabled for biomedical data. An expert group is discussing the relevant questions related to technical IT conditions and data security.

During the first years of the project, the focus will be on setting up the data infrastructure in the centre, in order to implement relevant research projects on the data platform after. The management centre in Basel is coordinating the set-up of the national infrastructure. The Canton of Basel-Stadt sees great opportunities with a standardised IT infrastructure in the area of clinical research; that is why it decided a start-up financing for the project. The Confederation should grant approval in the next few weeks.

In case of a successful course of the project, it is expected that many small spin-offs will form in the areas of platform technologies, IT security and the private sphere, as well as in the area of data interpretation (such as genome data). The project also promotes the collaboration between Big Pharma and the hospitals, which is becoming even more important with personalised medicine and the reduced case numbers related to it.

Just the beginning of a big transformation?

Data has always been the central driver of innovation. In the future, the significance of data will strongly increase in the global competition, with the consequence that life science companies must prepare for this new situation. Big Pharma is working on a global basis to set-up or buy the relevant competence. Novartis, for example, has developed a sensor-controlled computer program in collaboration with Microsoft for a motion test for MS patients, and is supporting a fund for investments in the new “Digital Health” technologies along with Qualcomm, a U.S. investor. Roche also, has invested in a majority share in Foundation Medicine, to name one example, in order to further promote personalised treatment of cancer patients in the area of molecular information.

Despite these examples, the path appears long - also or especially for Big Pharma - and the transformation must proceed quickly. This is why Basel must now act in order to maintain its attractiveness as a location to the life science industry in the future. Basel companies in different sectors, such as Genedata, BC Platforms and Clinerion, among many others, are contributing to the future attractiveness of the location in the area of precision medicine, along with the University of Basel, the D-BSSE at ETH, FHNW, the FMI and the Basel University Hospital. With interested (local) life science companies as well as research institutes and through sensible extension of the regional innovation ecosystem Basel shall become a well-known location for precision medicine far beyond Swiss borders. The data coordination centre with its management in Basel is a first milestone for this undertaking. Further projects and milestones will follow.