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UK government to invest £100m in using AI to research treatments for incurable diseases

The UK government is to invest £100m in deploying artificial intelligence (AI) tools to help accelerate the pace of research into treatments for incurable diseases.

The initiative has been termed The AI Life Sciences Accelerator Mission and was announced by prime minister Rishi Sunak in a speech on Thursday 26 October 2023.

“AI can help us solve some of the greatest social challenges of our time. AI could help find novel dementia treatments or develop vaccines for cancer,” said Sunak.

“That’s why today we’re investing a further £100m to accelerate the use of AI on the most transformational breakthroughs in treatments for previously incurable diseases.”

The investment will be targeted towards areas where AI has the greatest potential to create “transformational breakthroughs”.

“The £100m will help drive forward this work by exploring how AI could address these conditions, which have some of the highest mortality and morbidity,” said the government in a statement.

“This funding will help us to invest in parts of the UK where the clinical needs are greatest to test and trial new technologies within the next 18 months.”

The funding will also, the statement added, be used to fund novel AI research that can be used to create general purpose applications across a range of health challenges – freeing up clinicians to spend more time with their patients.

Health and social care secretary Steve Barclay said The AI Life Sciences Accelerator Mission will look to build on the successes the government has already seen through the deployment of AI within healthcare settings.

“This new accelerator fund will help us build on our efforts to harness the latest technology to unlock progress and drive economic growth,” said Barclay.

“This is on top of the progress we have already made on AI deployment in the NHS, with AI tools now live in over 90% of stroke networks in England – halving the time for stroke victims to get the treatment in some cases, helping to cut waiting times.”

The government statement also went on to share further details of how The AI Life Sciences Accelerator Mission will work, with the government set to invite proposals that will bring together industry, academia and clinicians to aid the development of AI tools.

“Building on the success of partnerships already using AI in areas like identifying eye diseases, industry, academia and clinicians will be brought together to drive forward novel AI research into earlier diagnosis and faster drug discovery,” it added.

News of the initiative comes at a time of close scrutiny from regulators about how the use of AI should be governed, with the UK government reportedly favouring a non-statutory approach to regulating AI use.

Michelle Donelan, secretary of state for Science, Innovation and Technology, said that “safe, responsible, AI” has the potential to “change the game” for what’s possible to do in healthcare.

“This £100m AI Life Sciences Accelerator Mission will bring the UK’s unique strengths in secure health data and cutting-edge AI to bear on some of the most pressing health challenges facing the society,” she said.

“Closing the gap between the discovery and application of innovative new therapies, diagnostic tools, and ways of working that will give clinicians more time with their patients.”

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