NON-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) – an accumulation of excess fat in the liver of people who drink little or no alcohol – is the third most common cause of premature death in the UK and a disease that affects a quarter of the world’s population.

It is strongly linked to type II diabetes and there is no approved treatment, but Cambridge-based Eagle Genomics, along with the Stratified Medicine Scotland Innovation Centre (SMS-IC), is hoping to help reduce deaths with early recognition of the disease, monitoring its progression and developing an effective treatment.

The two recently shared a £1.7 million grant from the UK innovation agency Innovate UK for a project that could help bring about such developments.

Eagle is a software company and its cloud-based e[automateddatascientist] platform, which is also being used in Europe and the US, will play a central role in helping to develop new tests and treatments for NAFLD.

The company’s CEO, Abel Ureta-Vidal, told The National: “We’ll be working with SMS-IC to deploy our platform to do data management for translational research, basically analysing and managing data from patients to better understand a specific disease.

“We are working on NAFLD, which is a big killer and we expect to be recruiting about 2000 patients over the next few years in Scotland to do that.

“It is a big project – not so much in terms of patients – but in Scotland access to patient data is great.

“And when you start grouping together hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands of patient records to get a global picture of a specific disease you need very good software to be able to do it in a scalable and robust way.”

The funding will help develop SteatoSITE, a data commons, or shared virtual space where biomedical research scientists can work with data and analytical tools.

As more data is added, it will evolve into a smarter, more comprehensive knowledge system that will assist important discoveries in chronic liver disease and increase the success of treatments.

Ureta-Vidal said Eagle’s interaction with the innovation centre had triggered interest in his own firm from other companies.

“Since we started putting the bid together last autumn there has been interest for pharma companies joining the consortium, which is good because it exposes the access to patient data for research and for us it’s important because these are potential customers for us as well.

“For us we are not just developing a platform for that disease. The idea of the software platform is to be generic and to be able to configure it for different diseases.

“What we can offer in this project will be a demonstrator of how it can be used to gain new insights and how we can apply it to other diseases.

“We were due to meet everyone from SMS-IC at the Life Sciences dinner earlier this year but that was postponed because of bad weather. It has been rescheduled for next month and we expect to meet them all face to face then.”