U.K. sets out digital, data-driven plan to accelerate R&D

EHR data sharing
A trial feasibility service and data gathering app are on the U.K. roadmap. (Getty/andrei_r)

The U.K. government has set out how it plans to use data and digital technologies to attract clinical trials. Near-term plans include the creation of a system for assessing study feasibility and an app to connect patients to studies.

U.K. plans to leverage a trove of longitudinal health data to attract life science investment predate the vote to leave the European Union, but the strategy has taken on greater importance in light of the need for the country to redefine its place in the industry. The importance of data and digital tools to the U.K.’s post-Brexit vision is evident in the government’s second deal with the life sciences sector.

Many aspects of the strategy have been previously disclosed elsewhere, but the government report adds new details. Some of these details relate to the clinical trial collaboration NHS Digital and Health Data Research UK unveiled earlier this week.

The original release stated the organizations will work together on the use of data to inform clinical trials. In practice, this will entail designing a system that uses health data to assess the feasibility of trials quickly enrolling well-defined patient populations. Given the industry’s desire for insights into the locations of patients in the active disease state, the tool could prove useful to sponsors.

Industry will find out relatively soon whether the system can help address the long-standing trial enrolment bottleneck. The government expects to demonstrate an “efficient and industry-friendly, England-wide clinical trials service for feasibility and eligibility” by the fall of 2019.

The feasibility initiative is advancing in parallel to an app that is expected to go live around the same time. In its first iteration, the app will enable patients to register their interest in participating in trials and support access to data in the digital records of patients enrolled in research. The government thinks the streamlining of data collection will dramatically cut the cost and time of recruitment.

By 2020, the government envisages the app serving as a way for sponsors to share information on the outcomes of studies with participants. In 2021, data will start flowing back the other way as the app gains the ability to collect data from wearables and other apps.

The focus on health data in the sector deal attracted the support of companies including Sensyne Health, a medical AI startup that went public earlier this year. However, the risk that Brexit will wipe out any potential data-driven gains remains, as does the possibility that the public will again rebel against their health information being used to help businesses.