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Healthier Lives Challenge tackles major diseases

Hon Steven Joyce
Minister of Science and Innovation

4 December 2015

Healthier Lives Challenge tackles major diseases

Science and Innovation Minister Steven Joyce today launched the Healthier Lives National Science Challenge, which aims to reduce the financial burden of major health problems, with funding of up to $31.3 million over 10 years.

“This Science Challenge will place New Zealand as a world leader in the delivery of equitable healthcare for non-communicable diseases,” Mr Joyce says. “It will seek better prevention, diagnosis and treatment methods for cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and obesity, with a burden reduction target of 25 per cent by 2025.

“These diseases have an impact on the wellbeing of many New Zealanders, particularly Maori and Pasifika, and place a huge strain on the health system. Diagnosis and treatment of cancer alone costs up to $1 billion a year.”

The Challenge is the eighth of 11 National Science Challenges to be launched. Hosted by the University of Otago, it involves research partners AgResearch, AUT University, ESR, the Malaghan Institute of Medical Research, Massey University, the University of Auckland, the University of Canterbury, the University of Waikato and Victoria University.

Initial research will include:

• Establishing a new type of genomic blood test that detects tumour-derived DNA in the blood, leading to quicker, more accurate selection of effective therapies for individual cancer patients.

• Developing better risk assessment tools for improved clinical management of cardiovascular disease and prediabetes.

• Designing patient-centred prevention and treatment programmes to improve the effectiveness of interventions and health outcomes in diabetes for Maori.

• Implementing a contestable funding round for research that looks at slowing the progression of diabetes.

• Developing a mobile phone health programme that provides an accessible and cost-effective way to help more New Zealanders adopt healthier eating habits, be active, and improve their health.

• Analysing New Zealand’s health datasets to create a Virtual Health Information Network.

The Challenge will also focus on translating its innovations into practical solutions and research for effective health policy and practice, Mr Joyce says.

“Healthier Lives will see communities engaged in the research process earlier on, to help create relevant and workable solutions, particularly around prevention.

“The collaboration that the National Science Challenges encourage is particularly well suited to health, because it allows those involved to leverage off each others’ expertise and resources to deliver transformational research outcomes well beyond what is normally possible.”

The National Science Challenges are designed to tackle the biggest science-based issues and opportunities facing New Zealand. Each Challenge includes both new funding and funds that will become available as current research contracts directly related to each Challenge mature.

The new Challenge money comprises $133.5 million over four years allocated in Budgets 2012 and 2013, and continuing funding of $30.5 million per year thereafter.

For more information about the National Science Challenges, visit


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