Transforming our approach to disease prevention through health research

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Our Future Health – the UK’s largest health research program – explains how it aims to transform the prevention, detection and treatment of disease.

Millions of people in the UK and around the world spend many years of their lives in poor health. Our Future Health aims to solve this problem and help people live healthier longer lives by creating the UK’s largest health research program to prevent, detect and treat disease.

By creating a world-class health research resource that truly reflects the UK population, the aim is to develop a more detailed understanding of what makes some people more likely to develop certain health conditions, so that tests and treatments more effective can be developed in the future. .

The challenge

Despite advances in healthcare and medicine, many people in the UK still spend many years of their lives in poor health – 59% of people aged 65 or over in the UK suffer from at least two of the following conditions or impairments: arthritis, cancer, coronary heart disease, dementia, depression, diabetes, hypertension, respiratory disease, loss of vision and stroke. This figure is expected to reach 70% by 2035.

Too often, we only treat illnesses when patients start showing symptoms. Only 55% of cancers are detected at stages one and two, 850,000 people are currently living with undiagnosed type 2 diabetes and around 5.5 million people in England have undiagnosed high blood pressure. This is a problem, because we know that diagnosing conditions at a later stage often leads to worse outcomes. If we can help researchers develop new ways to detect disease earlier and identify people who are at higher risk of disease, we can ultimately achieve better health outcomes.

A world-class resource for health research

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 program aims to recruit up to five million adults who will provide a blood sample, complete a questionnaire and consent to us securely linking their medical records. Volunteers will also be asked to give permission for Our Future Health to contact them in the future to give them the opportunity to participate in follow-up research and offer personal feedback about their health if they wish to receive it.

Researchers working across the life sciences community, including universities, 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 disease, heart disease, arthritis, diabetes and stroke. The focus will be on developing approaches to identify diseases such as cancer and heart disease before symptoms appear.

Data security

Volunteer data will be anonymized and held in “trusted research environments” that meet strict security criteria, and managed to the highest industry and professional standards, in compliance with data protection laws. Individual level data cannot be exported. An Access Committee, including independent experts and members of the public, will ensure that Our Health Future resources are used only for health research in the public interest.

Improving representation in health research

In the past, some groups were underrepresented in health research. This includes people from black communities, Asian communities, and people from other minority ethnic groups. It also includes people living in the less affluent parts of the country – it is important to tackle this because there are large inequalities in health between the most and least deprived parts of the UK. Women in the least deprived areas of England live 19.7 years longer in good health than those in the most deprived areas, for men it is 18.4 years.

By ensuring that a wide range of people participate in Our Health Future, we can help researchers make discoveries that benefit everyone.

Building our future health

In 2021, over 3,000 people joined the initial phase of Our Future Health through partnerships with NHS Blood and Transplant and NIHR BioResource, following extensive consultation and input of members of the public.

The program is receiving initial funding of £79 million from UK Research and Innovation, the UK government-funded body that invests in science and research. This funding is being used to set up and start implementing the program. Funding from the NHSX AI Lab has also been allocated to the program, specifically to support the generation of polygenic risk scores and their feedback to participating volunteers.

Our Future Health recently announced £100 million in new funding from leading life science companies who are investing and providing their expertise to support the design and delivery of the innovative products that will enable the program to succeed. Life science industry partners include Alnylam, Amgen, AstraZeneca, GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), Illumina, Janssen Research & Development, LLC facilitated by Johnson & Johnson Innovation, MSD, Regeneron Genetics Center, Rochev and Thermo Fisher Scientific.

Our Future Health has also partnered with 16 health research charities who are supporting the pilot phase of the program and providing valuable support and experience. The charities supporting the pilot phase of Our Future Health are: Action Against Age-related Macular Degeneration, Alzheimer’s Research UK, Alzheimer’s Society, Asthma UK and British Lung Foundation, Blood Cancer UK, Breast Cancer Now, British Heart Foundation, Cancer Research UK, Diabetes UK, Movember, MS Society, Pancreatic Cancer UK, Parkinson’s UK, Prostate Cancer UK, Stroke Association and Versus Arthritis.

And after?

We will be inviting members of the public to sign up to join Our Future Health from Spring 2022. Those interested in participating can sign up to receive news and updates at

Our future health

This article is taken from issue 21 of Health Europe Quarterly. Click on here to get your free subscription today.

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