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Government invests $14.7M over 7 years in 'precision-driven' healthcare research

Thursday 10th March 2016

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The government is investing $14 million over seven years into a $37.8 million public-provider research partnership to promote the new area of "precision-driven" healthcare, building on New Zealand’s expertise in the health IT sector.

Listed software developer Orion Health and the Waitemata District Health Board, in collaboration with the University of Auckland, are the initial partners with others expected to follow in coming months.

Precision medicine is where all information relating to a person’s health and well-being – clinical, genetic, devices, environmental and lifestyle factors – are combined and made available to the patient and health professionals to improve the level of personalised care.

Science and Innovation Minister Steven Joyce and Health Minister Jonathan Coleman jointly announced the new funding, saying the research will help to deliver more proactive and timely personalised care as well as reduce health system costs.

Health research and health IT are strengths for New Zealand, and Coleman said the investment is aimed at producing innovations that can be commercialised globally, capitalising on the international growth in health IT and data analytics.

“Precision medicine is the future of health,” said Orion Health chief executive Ian McCrae. “New Zealand can lead the world in this area."

Existing medical data sources don’t enable personalised care because what’s happened in the past is not the sole predictor of someone’s future health, he said.  Other factors such as genetics, social circumstances, behaviour, and environmental exposure also come into play.

McCrae said he expects the results of the research to feed directly into the company’s product range in time.

The $14 million in government funding comes through the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment’s research partnerships programme, along with $23.8 million in industry and end-user funding, including a personal contribution from McCrae.

That’s despite MBIE’s partnership programme being suspended while a “focused review” is underway to check alignment with the strategic direction of the new National Statement of Science Investment and other current funding mechanisms. The review is expected to be completed by mid-year.

The government provides $25 million annually towards the partnerships which are a formal arrangement between research organisations and end users for long-term research intended to grow the competitiveness of New Zealand industries.

Partnership funding is limited to a maximum of $2.5 million per year while the minimum supplied by the partners is half a million dollars.

MBIE’s website says it will invest in research relating to biological industries, energy and minerals, environmental, hazards and infrastructure, and high value manufacturing and services.

One of the current partnerships is the Pastoral Greenhouse Gas Consortium and NZ Agricultural Greenhouse Gas Research Centre, developing technologies that farmers can use to mitigate methane emissions from cows and sheep.

Others involve the beef, lamb, wool, forestry, wine and kiwifruit industries.

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