Health Big Data Platform Program takes on responsibility to drive precision medicine in Taiwan

Apple Lin, DIGITIMES Asia, Taipei 0

Churn-Shiouh Gau, director of the Health Big Data Platform Program Office. Credit: DIGITIMES

The completion of human genome sequencing has given rise to the trend of precision medicine and prompted governments worldwide to formulate the relevant healthcare policies. Meanwhile, Taiwan's healthcare standard, and information and communication technology industry rank among the best in the world. As such, in 2021, the National Science and Technology Council (NSTC), the Ministry of Health and Welfare (MOHW), and the Ministry of Economic Affairs (MOEA) joined forces to officially launch the "Health Big Data Platform Program," in the hope of using Taiwan's niche advantages to build a comprehensive healthcare database fundamental. Furthermore, the effort also sought to combine digital technology with biomedical research to enhance Taiwan's international competitiveness.

Churn-Shiouh Gau, director of the Health Big Data Platform Program Office, pointed out that the healthcare database structure of the program can be divided into retrospective and prospective databases. For retrospective thematic databases, it has been undertaken by MOHW and the National Health Research Institutes (NHRI). Both organizations recently established a lung cancer database. Furthermore, the ongoing data cleaning for cardiovascular diseases, infectious diseases and diabetes has also proceeded smoothly. Whereas, the prospective thematic databases consists of two parts: firstly, NSTC supports eight medical centers to undertake case collection for a translation-oriented biomedical database; and secondly, NHRI is undertaking the establishment of clinical next-generation sequencing database for cancer care.

National Center for High-performance Computing Plays Crucial Role in Building Data Collection and Sharing Platform

The Health Big Data Platform Program is a collaborative program between several ministries. During the execution process, it is found that many issues uncovered require discussions among the ministries before a consensus can be reached. Alternatively, resources from different ministries must be pooled together before the relevant strategies can be implemented. For databases, it is necessary to establish consistent data formats and reference international standards such as HL7 FHIR and mCODE. Furthermore, encrypted data transmission drills between ministries can only be carried out consistently by complying with the relevant laws and regulations. The goal of the program is to combine both retrospective and prospective databases to increase the value of data usage.

As such, the Health Big Data Platform Program Office has established cross-ministerial task force mechanism to assist such as undertaking data connection and transmission drills, performing data governance and gateway to health data, establishing biomedical big data, adopting business models, and ensuring compliance of digital regulations and guidelines. Relevant units are invited to continuously promote the undertakings of important issues. Take data transmission for example. Units such as the Department of Statistics (from MOHW), the Department of Life Sciences (from NSTC), the National Center for High-performance Computing (NCHC, from the National Applied Research Laboratories) and Biobank (from NHRI) have collaborated to carry out the planning and drills for data transmission mechanism, as well as establishing the related operating procedures.

NCHC plays a crucial role and serves important functions in the Health Big Data Platform Program. Currently, it has established user-friendly biomedical data analytics and sharing platform under the Department of Life Sciences. It includes a high-quality biomedical database that collects and consolidate data generated by a translation-oriented biomedical database - a project undertaken by the Department of Life Sciences. The platform is also involved in collecting and consolidating data provided by hospitals, as well as performing quality inspection and verification on the data. NCHC also conducts external database connection drills, provides data query functions, establishes data application procedures and systems, offers analysis environment to data users, and provides information security and data protection for the overall system, among other information technology support.

Gau pointed out that once the database is completed, a dataset that provides comprehensive biomedical information and meets international standards, covering areas from medical records and images to genome information can be established. In the meantime, Gau hopes that the collaboration between different ministries can connect the dataset to the National Health Insurance Research Database. The connection can facilitate academic research, and benefit different fields such as technological verification, biomarker exploration, and pre-research hypothesis testing. Even applications in innovative research or product testing in the related industries may benefit as well.

The subsequent goals and directions of the Health Big Data Platform Program will be on promoting the establishment of demand-oriented healthcare big data platform that provides integrative services. For example, it will seek to increase data volume, implement data governance and create horizontal connections with other major precision medicine programs and biomedical databases in Taiwan, thereby increasing the benefits of using the Health Big Data Platform.