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Europe agrees major blockchain partnership and DNA data-sharing deal

The public sector in Europe will come to depend on blockchain technology. This was the claim by the European Commission (EC) as it announced major cross-border deals on blockchain and digital healthcare to address challenges of fragmentation and interoperability, accelerate the launch of new digital services, and secure the region’s future as a digital leader and an economic power.

In total, 22 countries in the European Union (EU) have signed up to a new European blockchain partnership to address technical and regulatory barriers and launch blockchain services for both public and private sectors. The EC is sitting on a new €300 million fund for blockchain projects, it said.

In parallel, 13 member states have agreed to share access to their residents’ DNA data among themselves. The move has been billed as a “game changer” for health research and clinical practice in Europe. The move will improve understanding and prevention of disease, and enable more personalised treatments, in particular for rare diseases, cancer and brain related diseases, the EC said.

The EC wants one million genomes to be accessible by member states by 2022.

The twin announcements came as part of the EC’s annual ‘digital day’, held this year in Brussels, in Belgium. The EC is determined EU will safeguard and lift up its economic performance by securing a leading role in the development of new digital technologies, including artificial intelligence, blockchain and digital healthcare.

New regional agreements for cross-border 5G testing of driverless cars on Europe’s major roads were also announced at the event.

The EC has invested over €80 million in projects supporting the use of blockchain; a further €300 million has been allocated for blockchain projects in the period to 2020. It launched a ‘blockchain observatory and forum’ in February. Full collaboration between member states around this nascent technology is important to avoid fragmentation and ensure interoperability, the EC said.

The technology, which allows transactions to be recorded in a decentralised digital ledger in verifiable and secure way, is being tested in the financial sector already. It will be integrated into an increasing number of digital services, such as regulatory reporting, energy and logistics in the coming years. In the future, all public services will use blockchain technology,” said Mariya Gabriel, EC commissioner for digital economy and society.

“Blockchain is a great opportunity for Europe and member sates to rethink their information systems, to promote user trust and the protection of personal data, to help create new business opportunities and to establish new areas of leadership, benefiting citizens, public services and companies. The partnership launched today enables member states to work together with the EC to turn the potential of blockchain technology into better services for citizens.”

Signatories to the blockchain declaration are Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and the UK. Croatia, Cyprus, Greece, Hungary, Italy and Romania abstained. The scheme remains open to other member states.

Meanwhile, the new deal on genomic data will bring together fragmented digital healthcare infrastructure in the region, and allow secure access to national and regional banks of genetic data. It will also leverage investments by member states at national and EU level, particularly in sequencing, bio banking and data infrastructure. New medical research will achieve scale and impact more easily, the EC said.

“Health relies on digital innovation and cross-border interoperability. Secure access to genomic and other health data among member states is essential for better health and care delivery to European citizens and to ensure that the EU will remain at the forefront of health research,” said Gabriel.

The EC added in a statement: “To overcome data silos, lack of interoperability and fragmentation of initiatives across the EU, enhanced cooperation between member states is essential. This will also keep the EU at the forefront of genomic and personalised medicine globally, fostering its scientific output and industrial competitiveness.”

The Czech Republic, Cyprus, Estonia, Finland, Italy, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Portugal, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and the UK have so far signed the declaration on DNA data-sharing. Bulgaria, Croatia, Greece have also committed to sign.

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