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17th November 2020

From bench to bedside: Accelerating the innovation pathway

DATA-CAN’s director Dr Charlie Davie reflects on his recent involvement in the Economist’s World Cancer Series in this blog.

Earlier this month I was pleased to take part in The Economist’s World Cancer Series: Europe virtual week – a global event that brings together policy makers, clinicians, academics, industry leaders and patients to drive forward the conversation on improving cancer care in Europe.

The session, From bench to bedside, looked at how we can improve the links between academia, investment and health systems to improve the speed of innovation development and adoption to really benefit cancer patients. To consider this challenge I was joined on the panel by Lars Holmgren of the Karolinska Institute in Sweden and Daniel Mahoney of Polar Capital.

It was an opportunity for me to highlight DATA-CAN’s work over the past year to improve the visibility and access to high quality cancer data and how this is a fundamental step to ultimately improve patient outcomes.

The COVID-19 emergency has impacted on us all – professionally and personally. For DATA-CAN, as the health data research hub for cancer, we realised early on in the pandemic that there was a need for health services to have access to near real-time cancer data so that they could understand the direct impact on services, on patient behaviours to accessing care and be better able to respond and react to the direct and indirect impact of the crisis on people with cancer.

A really positive consequence of the pandemic has been the increased willingness of individuals and organisations to more readily share data, with the right and proper governance mechanisms and infrastructure in place. This new way of doing things is innovative in itself and the hope is that it will help to foster further innovations in how better data flows facilitate better healthcare down the line.

The session also allowed me to listen to the perspectives of my fellow panellists. Lars spoke about the Karolinska Institute’s work across cancer centres in seven European countries, which is allowing them to organise patients with the same genetic mutations and test out new therapeutics and innovations. These types of initiatives are vitally important is reducing the distance between discovery, new drugs and therapies and benefits to patients. Dan brought a fascinating perspective from the investment world and the innovation journey – taking an invention and reducing it to practice so it can then commercialised.

One particularly interesting area of innovation in cancer is the development of CAR-T cell therapy. This is a type of immunotherapy that collects and makes a small change to people’s T cells which can then target the cancer cells. In London, Autolus (a spin out company from University College London) was particularly successful in leveraging research participants and then translating this into a successful introduction of this innovative therapy into patient pathways. The agility to adopt innovations was possibly made easier because it was being done on a regional rather than a national level.

Precision medicine is another area of innovation which also gives cause for optimism for cancer patients. Lynch syndrome is the most common cause of hereditary colorectal cancer and because those with it share genetic traits, advances in genomics are leading to better, more targeted, treatments for this condition and provides optimism for a population-based approach to diagnosis and management

We all agreed for the need to demonstrate the benefits of life sciences to the wider society and to highlight the link between improved patient outcomes and health economics. This is particularly important in the current context that COVID-19 has had on the global economy – meaning that everyone, including the life sciences sector, increasingly needs to demonstrate value for money in all that it does.

Looking to the future, collaboration on a wider national and global scale will be important not only to harness resources, but also to make sure that the innovations currently being developed can be made available to as many cancer patients as possible. This can be achieved both through patient participation in research and ultimately as beneficiaries of new treatments and technologies developed through the better application of patient and population data. DATA-CAN is excited to be part of this journey.

Dr Charlie Davie is the Director of DATA-CAN