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Chinese cloud computing medical initiative must address privacy concerns, says expert

The China Precision Medicine Initiative (CPMI) plans to use a cloud computing platform to help develop new medicines. A cloud platform will be set up for the CPMI by Huawei and global open research platform WuXi AppTec.23 Mar 2016

The cloud computing platform will be used to analyse gene sequence data that the CPMI hopes will lead to the development of new medicines, Huawei and WuXi AppTec said.

The companies will work with the China Food and Drug Administration and with third-party life-science cloud providers to develop the data standards and exchange framework required, they said.

Life sciences specialist Helen Cline of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com welcomed the agreement but stressed the need to address concerns about privacy and data security.

"The China Precision Medicine’s Initiate, together with other similar ‘big data’ initiatives around the world, has the laudable aim of refocusing prevention diagnosis and treatment  from the population-level, one-size-fits-all paradigm, to a personalised approach: ‘the right drug, for the right patient, at the right time’."

"However, before this vision of personalised medicine can be fully realised there is a range of challenges facing the field, least of all the cost and technical demands of collecting storing and processing the data so that it is usefully accessible," she said.

"Among the other challenges raised by these new capabilities to gather, analyse, disseminate and preserve vast quantities of data are new concerns about the nature of privacy and the means by which individual privacy might be compromised or protected. Establishing trust is going to be essential if the techniques and tools of these big data projects are to be successfully applied to health," Cline said.

"It is essential that individual patients participating in these projects are adequately informed of the current and possible future use that might be made of their data and also the advantages that they and others may derive by making their data available for biomedical exploitation.  What is needed is an international strategy on personalised medicines along with a public debate involving all stakeholders about both the risks and benefits associated with data-sharing," she said.

Huawei's cloud platform already serves 50,000 customers in China with data centres in 15 cities, while technology from WuXi Next CODE, a subsidiary of WuXi AppTec, is used in large-scale precision medicine in the UK, Qatar, US and China, the companies said.