UK to invest millions in AI development to help with early diagnosis for cancer

UK Prime Minister Theresa May is expected to announce plans for the government to earmark millions of pounds of funding for artificial intelligence (AI) research aimed at improving health outcomes through early diagnosis of cancer and chronic disease. The strategy calls for the NHS to partner with the AI sector and charities to develop algorithms that can use data on patients' genetics, medical records and lifestyle habits to better identify those in the early stages of disease.

"The development of smart technologies to analyse great quantities of data quickly and with a higher degree of accuracy than is possible by human beings, opens up a whole new field of medical research and gives us a new weapon in our armoury in the fight against disease," May is expected to say in a speech on Monday.

The prime minister will also say that the plans for a "whole new industry around AI-in-healthcare" should lead to at least 50 000 patients a year in the UK being diagnosed at an early stage of prostate, ovarian, lung or bowel cancer, rather than at a later stage. Further, May will say that AI could help prevent 22 000 deaths from cancer each year by 2033, as well as lead to patients having five additional years of healthy life by 2035. 

The proposal is also expected to include permitting commercial firms access to NHS data for profit, potentially raising concerns about the ethics of data sharing and privacy. 

Commenting on the news, Cancer Research CEO Harpal Kumar called the strategy pioneering, but "we need to ensure we have the right infrastructure, embedded in our health system, to make this possible." He said the UK must also "remain an attractive place for the life sciences industry to invest," adding that "if this platform unites government, academia, the charity sector and industry, we will be primed to accelerate innovation and lead the healthcare sector to new heights." 

Meanwhile, Simon Gillespie, chief executive at the British Heart Foundation, remarked that "using AI to analyse MRI scans could spot early signs of heart disease, which may be missed by current techniques, [and] this could lead to a quicker diagnosis with more personalised treatment that could ultimately save lives." 

In April, the FDA said it is moving to encourage the use of AI and other digital tools in medicine and drug development. At the time, FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said "AI holds enormous promise for the future of medicine," adding that "we're actively developing a new regulatory framework to promote innovation in this space, and support the use of AI-based technologies." 

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