UK government targets ‘truly data-driven and digital’ clinical research environment after COVID-19


(Image by Konstantin Kolosov from Pixabay)

It looks like we are already in the era of ‘lessons learned from the pandemic’, although we are still in the midst of a UK-wide lockdown as the UK government begins to release more details on how it will use digital tools and data to improve the delivery of post-COVID-19 health care.

As my colleague Stuart Lauchlan noted earlier this week, Health Secretary Matt Hancock has started sowing (again) the seed for what a digital NHS might look like in the future. At diginomica, we don’t have much hope for this under current leadership – and it’s definitely worth reading the entire scathing dismantling of Hancock’s plans by Stuart.

On top of that, the government has now released its plans for “the future of clinical research“, having apparently learned that investing in clinical research may well be a good thing!

The document published at – ‘Saving and improving lives: the future of clinical research in the UK ” – was developed by the UK government and decentralized administrations and aims to describe how the UK will deliver faster, more efficient and innovative research. It takes into account streamlining the costing, contracting and approval processes, but of course also adds a healthy dose of digital and data possibilities.

The aim is to reduce the time taken to provide final notice for research requests in half, while making research more accessible and better representative of the UK population.

Taking the limelight this week (for a change), Health and Social Affairs Secretary Matt Hancock said:

Clinical research is the backbone of healthcare – it’s how we improve the detection, diagnosis, treatment and prevention of disease and improve the lives of patients across the country. This has never been truer than in our response to the pandemic.

By leveraging our world-renowned research expertise and a strong partnership between business, academia, the NHS and government, we are committed to making the UK the best possible place to conduct clinical research that will improve the health of people here and around the world.

Revolutionary technologies, data and analytics will transform healthcare and save lives. Now is the time to seize the opportunity and make that vision a reality.

The details

Strategy released this week says the COVID-19 pandemic has ‘highlighted’ the strength and importance of the UK’s research base – citing the example of the UK being the first to discover dexamethasone as a proven treatment for COVID-19 and the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine.

Science and research are also key elements of the UK’s post-Brexit strategy, where it hopes to build a knowledge-based economy that can compete effectively on the global stage, separate from the European Union.

The strategy includes a certain number of key elements, which revolve around several priority axes aimed at: improving the speed and efficiency of the implementation of studies; rely on digital platforms to conduct clinical research; and make research more diverse and relevant across the UK.

It is hoped that this will “break down barriers” and create an environment for clinical research focused on patents and pro-innovation.

On the digital and data fronts, the paper describes how digital systems underpin the conduct of modern clinical research, where they help design and deliver protocols, identify and recreate research participants, and support public participation.

These systems, he adds, go hand in hand with accessible, interoperable, and high-quality health data – to better understand the disease.

The government is highlighting how, during COVID-19, systems such as the UK Vaccine Registry and the NHSD’s Trusted Research Environment played a critical role in speeding up the process of getting a vaccine to market.

However, the government believes that more can be done. The strategy states:

But even though positive steps have been taken, we need to go much further and faster to unlock the true potential of evidence-based clinical research.

We need to evolve current platforms, creating the mechanisms to connect eligible patients with opportunities to participate in clinical research that concerns them. And we will work to improve interoperability between systems, to support the delivery of clinical research, both nationally and locally.

We can create a truly digital and future-ready clinical research environment. This will act as a critical catalyst to deliver faster, more efficient and more innovative clinical research – which increases access and brings new gene sequencing, cell therapies, precision drugs, digital tools and artificial intelligence to fight against the NHS ‘most urgent health care. challenges.

Some of the systems mentioned include: OpenSafely, NHSD DigiTrials, NWeHealth, Clinical Practice Research Datalink (CPRD), UK BioBank, NIHR Bioresource, Genes and Health and Genomics England, as well as the SAIL Database of Wales, provided in partnership with Digital Health and Care Wales.

The government hopes that this work – alongside the other elements of the strategy – will provide the UK with “the world’s most advanced and data-driven clinical research environment” where it can capitalize on data assets to improve health and patient care across the UK.

My opinion

More digital! More data! To be fair, at least this plan was developed with broad collaboration between the NHS and the medical community and has the support of all UK governments. It’s a good start. The next step is to launch implementation plans and strategies, outlining how this will be achieved in 2021 and 2022. The intention is good, but execution will be key…


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