MRC to run competition process for Digital Innovation Hubs

A series of delays may have sapped momentum, but it was never in doubt that the EMA would deliver ISO IDMP. Siniša Belina suggests some useful next steps.

The MRC is to run a competition process on behalf of Health Data Research UK, to create Digital Innovation Hubs: centres of excellence dedicated to pioneering the use of health data for research and innovation.

Up to £22 million is available to create five new centres across the UK, enabling scientists and innovators to access and use data from the NHS and social care.

The initiative is funded by the Government’s Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund (ISCF), run by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), and is an element of the Data to Early Diagnosis and Precision Medicine challenge, placing early diagnosis and best treatments for particular patients at the heart of a national approach to better health.

The hubs will help researchers to answer important and complex questions about health and disease by using data to radically improve people’s health and care by diagnosing disease earlier, finding new treatments and cures for diseases, speeding up drug development, and giving people faster access to more personalised treatments.

The competition is part of the £37 million Digital Innovation Hub Programme investment which will create a single access point to UK health research data through a ‘Gateway’ that will ensure data is findable, accessible and used safely and responsibly.

The data will allow experts to research the genetic, lifestyle and social factors behind many familiar common diseases and identify revealing data trends which may help with finding cures or treatments. The Hubs will also be tasked with ensuring the safe and responsible use of health data and involving and working with patients to ensure that benefits are returned to the NHS for the greater public good.

A £3 million trial phase is already demonstrating success for 10 sprint exemplar projects across the UK. In Manchester, data on heart patients has been collected directly from fitted pacemakers or the use of defibrillators to help manage conditions and reduce risk of emergency hospital admissions. Another project in Liverpool is aiming to improve outcomes for patients with epilepsy and reduce unnecessary admissions to A&E by connecting data from GPs, hospitals and ambulance services and making it available to paramedics and emergency department staff.

This four-year programme is being led by Health Data Research UK on behalf of UKRI.

Business Secretary Greg Clark said: “Whether from the NHS, social services or smartphones, access to the right health data has the potential to be used to better understand diseases, and develop life-saving new drugs.

“Access to anonymised health data has huge potential to allow us to better understand diseases and develop life-saving new drugs and treatments.

“The Digital Innovation Hubs, backed by over £37 million of Industrial Strategy investment, will ensure researchers, innovators and clinicians can access a large quantity of anonymised data responsibly and ethically – allowing them to pioneer new medicines and treatments.

“These hubs are a major part of our modern Industrial Strategy, building on the UK’s world leading life sciences sector and health service to the benefit of researchers, industry and patients.”

Professor Andrew Morris, Director of Health Data Research UK, said: “We are excited about the tremendous opportunities that that Digital Innovation Hub Programme brings to the future of health research and innovation in the UK. Working closely with UK Research and Innovation, our focus in delivering these new centres of excellence is first and foremost on ensuring that patients reap the rewards and are reassured that all data are used ethically and responsibly.

“The UK has a high energy community that brings together leading health experts, entrepreneurs and data scientists. When combined with the UK’s ability to bring data together from hospitals, patients, public health and laboratories, we can power an open innovation platform that improves the health and care of people living with cancer, diabetes and heart disease and make the UK the place for ethical data research.”