SUZHOU, China – The Hong Kong Stock Exchange (HKEX) chief proposed to unleash China's rich data resources to advance big health care, after he steered a groundbreaking move last year to welcome pre-revenue biotech companies, a move that has become a hot topic for the industry at home and abroad.

The HKEX is working with specialists from data collection, processing and encryption to turn big data into a tradable asset that is an integral part in the health care ecosystem. The exchange takes up the role as a credible platform that draws everyone together to move the project forward.

HKEX Chief Executive Charles Li called it "another new dream" when revealing the infant project to the audience at the China Biotech Innovation and Investment Conference.

Last year, he successfully realized his first dream of creating a new financing channel for startups desperate for capital. To date, eight have gone public and raised nearly HK$23.5 billion (US$3 billion). Many more are waiting to list.

"Today we have another new dream," said Li, unveiling his next grand vision. "In an era of big health care, can we move the capital forward so our scientists can provide patients with precision medicine earlier?"

He said he believes that if concerns surrounding data are resolved, China, which has the biggest and most extensive human data resources, could be a forerunner in the global big health care space.

But to make it happen, Li listed four hurdles to clear: standardization of data, data ownership, data protection and pricing of data.

"If the last two can be resolved, then the government will be encouraged to resolve the first two," Li claimed.

Therefore, the HKEX is working to address data protection and the pricing of data.

According to Li's colleague, Neo Wang, co-head of strategic projects execution of the market development division, the HKEX is collaborating with oncology-focused big data company Linkdoc Technology to process data and with encryption specialist Wei Xu, from Tsinghua University's interdisciplinary information sciences department, for better protection and safety.

Linkdoc collects medical data from hospitals, puts it into a standardized format and stores the data on the cloud to enable medical big data integration with the help of artificial intelligence and machine learning. It is said to have the largest medical big data resource pool in China with comprehensive clinical data on 3,000 diseases.

"Linkdoc will provide and process the data before handing it to the pharmaceutical companies," said Wang.

Meanwhile, Xu's part is to encrypt data by using secure multiparty computation (MPC) technology to enable real data privacy.

"We provide encrypted data so data users can only use it for the purpose they claim. They will not be able to unlock the original data to use it on something else," Xu explained.

The MPC technology addresses concerns about data misuse and data monopolization by big pharma companies, he added.

Wang said the technologies from Linkdoc and Xu bolster data safety as the original data won't be seen by data users, while ensuring that the data are still usable. It is a win-win for data sharers and users. "By protecting the interests of everyone in the industry chain, we can advance the development of medical data application," he added.

He also explained what HKEX's Li meant by moving the capital forward.

"We let the investors realize the value of medical data sharing and integration, so they will be more willing to inject capital in the market as early as possible," Wang explained.

Data a national resource

The exchange is also working on a strategy to create a data marketplace. When a measurement unit is set, data users and owners can negotiate the price and discover the value of data. The government then can step in by formulating regulations and formally classify data as a new asset class that is tradable and sharable.

Home to 1.4 billion people, China has what many believe to be a data goldmine that remains untapped.

Tony Zhang, founder of Linkdoc, said each life should be utilized.

"If technical restraints only allowed us to store patients' data on an excel sheet, it would be a huge waste. Each life, which turns into data, deserves to be better protected, stored and utilized to let the next patient [have] access to better treatment," he said.

Biotech companies are actively exploring the value of big data in pursuing precision medicine and targeted drugs.

"We firmly believe that only through sharing, will genetic data be able to create enormous value," said Yan Gu, general manager of diagnosis firm Wuxi Nextcode.

Thinking along the same lines as the HKEX chief, China is already seeing its human genetic data as a national strategic resource. This year, it rolled out new regulations to ensure stricter control of such data.

Any foreign biotech companies or institutes intending to use Chinese data must engage a Chinese partner in the research project. The foreign parties cannot collect or preserve China's human genetic resources within China or transfer them abroad.

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