Taipei, Oct. 30 (CNA) Taiwan will integrate 31 biobanks across the nation in the hope of accelerating disease research and the development of new drugs, the Ministry of Health and Welfare (MOHW) announced at a press conference Wednesday.
The 31 biobanks store a total of 4.5 million biological specimens and medical data on 460,000 patients in Taiwan, according to the MOHW.
However, as the biobanks are managed by different institutes, the medical materials are currently scattered across Taiwan, said Shih Chung-liang (石崇良), director-general of the MOHW's Department of Medical Affairs.
This is an obstacle to doctors and researchers utilizing the materials on a larger scale, he explained, adding that the complicated application process needed to access the materials also poses a challenge.
An integrated platform, combining data and specimens from the 31 biobanks and with a simplified application procedure, could lead to more biomedical research utilizing the materials and hopefully facilitate the development of new medication or treatments better suited to Taiwanese patients, he said.
The MOHW also plans to include information from Taiwan's nationwide Cancer Registry System, National Health Insurance System and rare disease database at a future date, MOHW Minister Chen Shih-chung (陳時中) said at the press conference.
The project is part of an effort to promote precision medicine, a form of disease treatment that takes into account an individual's genetic makeup, environment and lifestyle, said Chen.
Past research in Taiwan found that although certain medications used to treat patients with lung cancer in Europe and the U.S. proved ineffective, the same medication was extremely effective when used to treat patients in Taiwan, said National Health Research Institutes (NHRI) Deputy Minister Ssu Tu Hui-kang (司徒慧康).
Such research indicates that genetic differences between individuals could warrant different types of treatment, said Ssu Tu, highlighting the importance of precision medicine.
The MOHW will cooperate with the NHRI to develop the platform, under the guidance of the Executive Yuan, which it expects to be operational by the middle of 2020.