Adapted with permission from the World Economic Forum (read the full story at WEF here)

Over the last two years, the World Economic Forum’s precision medicine team led a pilot project called Breaking Barriers to Health Data, designed to ensure that people living with rare and other complex diseases were not missing out on life-saving diagnoses and treatments.

A health data consortium was developed between World Economic Forum and Australian Genomics, Genomics4RD in Canada, Genomics England, and Intermountain Healthcare as well as 85 stakeholders from academia, government, and industry with the aim of sharing genomic data for rare diseases across borders.

The team produced a proof of concept that outlines how countries can come together, use pre-existing datasets of coded and de-identified patient information and access other datasets across country borders with similar data types.

Australia and Canada have reached an agreement on how to deploy this proof of concept and will likely test it later in 2020.

Sorting through the human genome is like going through 100,000 digital photos – it’s a complex task that takes time and money,” said Lynsey Chediak, Project Lead, World Economic Forum.

“It takes on average five to seven years to diagnose a rare disease. I was one of the lucky ones, a person living with a rare disease diagnosed at the age of 5. But, due to the time to diagnose, in some places, one-quarter of children will not live to see their tenth birthday. That can change. Sharing genomic data is a huge undertaking, but it is not particularly difficult technically. The larger challenge is how to form the necessary relationships between institutions that enable trust and transparency and sustained, predictable operations. Our project showed us that this can be done.”

Many countries want to share data in theory but are unable to do so due to data security, patient privacy and incompatibility in operating standards. A federated data system is a technical solution that can mitigate many of these concerns. Participating in a sensitive health data consortium is the only way to maximise volumes of data already collected, sitting in silos around the globe.

This has been a valuable exercise to explore how to maximise the utility of our existing datasets.

Participating in this mode of international collaboration will be increasingly important to progress our shared knowledge of genomics – particularly in rare diseases,” said Tiffany Boughtwood, Manager, Australian Genomics.

Working with the Forum over the last two years, we have created a clear governance structure and strong partnerships with like-minded genomics institutions beyond Australia’s borders.”

By following the findings in this guide, the Forum hopes to encourage a cohesive, symbiotic relationship between health institutions throughout the world that may otherwise have different models of consent, operations, security and technology.

Read the story: Increasing the value of genomic data with global genomic data consortia
Read the guide: Sharing Sensitive Health Data in a Federated Data Consortium Model

The Breaking Barriers to Health Data project aims to craft and test a scalable governance framework to support the effective and responsible use of federated data systems to advance rare disease diagnosis and treatment. It is part of the World Economic Forum’s Health and Healthcare platform. The first case study will focus on enabling cross-border access to rare disease genomic data between four countries.

Learn about the World Economic Forum’s impact: https://www.weforum.org/our-impact

Photo by National Cancer Institute on Unsplash