LONDON (Reuters) - Health research data must be made more widely available in the scientific community if researchers are to unlock its full potential and make progress in public health, the world’s top health funding agencies said Monday.
In a joint statement, 17 major health research funders from around the world pledged to work together to support “timely and responsible” sharing of data gathered during studies on health.
“We have a duty to those populations who participate in research to ensure maximum benefit is derived,” said Sir Mark Walport, director of Britain’s Wellcome Trust and one of the signatories to the statement.
Walport, who wrote a commentary in The Lancet medical journal about the pledge, said it marked an important step toward improving access to data “which has the potential to improve the lives of many millions of people worldwide.”
Signatories to the statement, including the U.S. National Institutes of Health, Britain’s Medical Research Council, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the World Bank and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, noted that in some research fields, such as genetics and physics, data sharing is well established and has helped research to progress.
But in public health research, “the sharing of data is not yet the norm, even within the scientific community,” they said.
“Informatics and the ability to mine large datasets and combine them with information from many other sources presents a huge potential to advance developments in public health,” the joint statement said.
Other signatories include the U.S. Hewlett Foundation, Australia’s National Health and Medical Research Council, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, France’s National Institute for Health and Medical Research (INSERM) and the German Research Foundation (DFG). The full statement can be found at www.wellcome.ac.uk/publichealthdata.
Reporting by Kate Kelland, editing by Janet Lawrence