JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel will invest nearly 1 billion shekels ($287 million) in a project to make data about the state of health of its population available to researchers and private companies, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday.
Almost all of Israel’s nine million citizens belong to four health maintenance organizations (HMOs) who keep members’ records digitally, thus comprising a huge medical database.
Nadav Davidovitch, head of the Public Health School at Ben Gurion University in southern Israel, said the country’s push to harness big data for healthcare had huge potential, but also held risks in terms of privacy and medical confidentiality.
A statement from Netanyahu’s office said that mechanisms would be put in place to keep information anonymous while protecting privacy, information security and restricting access as part of the government project.
Patients will be able to refuse the use of their information for research, the statement said.
Digital health records are valuable. Big data analytics – comparing information provided by large numbers of patients – give some of the world’s biggest drugmakers indications of how medicines perform in the real world.
Netanyahu said world leaders and international firms have already shown interest in the project and that the potential revenue for Israel could be in the billions of dollars.
All the world’s major drug companies now have departments focused on the use of real-world data across multiple diseases. Several have completed scientific studies using the information to delve into key areas addressed by their drugs.
Real-world evidence involves collecting data outside traditional randomised clinical trials, the current gold standard for judging medicines, and interest in the field is ballooning.
Writing by Maayan Lubell; Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Tova Cohen/Mark Heinrich
March 25, 2018