Faster development of new treatments for diseases like cancer, heart disease and asthma are set to emerge following a £37.5 million investment in new Digital Innovation Hubs across the UK.
The new hubs will help connect regional health and care data with biomedical data in secure environments. This will pave the way for NHS, academic researchers and industry innovators to harness scientific knowledge and emerging technologies to develop new drugs and devices and improve health services.
Funded through the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund, the Digital Innovation Hubs will be led by Health Data Research UK (HDR UK), the national institute for data science in health, delivering on behalf of UK Research and Innovation.
Between three and five hubs will be created across the UK over the next three years to enable innovation that will have a long-lasting impact on improving the health of the public. The hubs will provide safe, secure and controlled environments for data and enable NHS clinicians to work together with health researchers, data scientists, computer scientists, ethicists, social scientists and the public.
The Digital Innovation Hubs will securely and safely connect data across regions of 3-5 million people and create an accessible layer of data from GP practices, hospitals, social and community care providers, alongside genetic and biomedical information and other datasets for research and innovation. Combined with the unique research expertise across UK universities and industry, this initiative offers an unprecedented opportunity to use data to improve the long-term health of the public. It will also create new jobs in the UK’s life sciences economy, drive medical innovation and ensure that NHS patients benefit from new treatments first.
HDR UK will work in partnership to establish the hubs and ensure data is used responsibly and ethically to benefit society. The hubs will follow the strict safeguards underpinning health data security and access as set by UK regulatory bodies and will be transparent in how and why data is used, stored and shared.
Safe, secure and trusted use of health data has a long track record of enhancing public health and facilitating innovative research. High profile examples include:
revealing the indisputable link between the effects of air pollution and smoking on developing lung cancer and heart disease;
discovering new genetic causes of disease that allows tailored treatments in cancer, arthritis and asthma;
reducing life-threatening complications of diabetes such as amputation and blindness, whilst shedding light on the genetic causes of disease.
The UK has some of the richest health data of anywhere in the world. However, these datasets across health, care, genomics and biomedicine are fragmented making it difficult, sometimes impossible, to access and use for research purposes. This causes delays and, in some cases, prevents accredited researchers and industry innovators from analysing data to help deliver better care and improve health for patients, society and for future generations.
The Digital Innovation Hubs programme will launch this Autumn with HDR UK seeking, and learning from, local examples of research partnerships that are already working in practice. These ‘demonstrator projects’ will test approaches that will inform the design and delivery of the Digital Innovation Hubs. Following this, in Spring 2019, HDR UK will invite regional partnerships of NHS, academia and industry to bid to establish a Digital Innovation Hub.
The hubs will complement other initiatives across the UK, including the NHS’ Local Health and Care Record Exemplar programme, which is joining up local health and care data for individual care and planning purposes, and the work of NHS Digital to create a Data Services Platform.
The Digital Innovation Hubs programme is part of the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund Wave 2 £210 million ‘Data to Early Diagnosis and Precision Medicine’ theme. Closely related investments within this theme include:
Genome sequencing using UK Biobank volunteers, and
A network of up to six Centres of Excellence in digital pathology and imaging, including radiology.