New data to help cancer researchers understand COVID-19 impact

A cancer cell being attacked by lymphocytes

Data that shows how COVID-19 impacts people with cancer will help researchers develop new services, tests and treatments, and ultimately save lives.

The UK’s Health Data Research Hub for Cancer (DATA-CAN) is funded by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) as part of the data to early diagnosis challenge.

DATA-CAN has worked with NHS Digital to provide secure access to cancer specific data.

The data is curated by NHS Digital’s National Disease Registration Service, alongside national population health datasets in the NHS Digital Trusted Research Environment (TRE).

Timely data access

This partnership will provide researchers with timely data access.

It will improve our understanding of the current impact of COVID-19 on the referral, diagnosis, treatment and outcomes of patients with cancer, and those who may become unwell in the future.

This research initiative is supported by the recent £200 million investment announced by the government.

The investment will enable more secure and efficient access to NHS data through trusted research environments and digital clinical trial services.

Faster treatments, improved care

It will ensure that the NHS will be able to:

  • deliver new treatments faster
  • improve patient care
  • develop the NHS Digital TRE to allow it to be made available to larger numbers of users in due course.

Professor Geoff Hall, DATA-CAN’s clinical lead, professor of digital health and honorary consultant in medical oncology at the Leeds Cancer Centre, said:

As a cancer doctor with a specialist interest in health data research, utilising this national Trusted Research Environment allows us to better understand the impact that COVID-19 has had on NHS cancer services.

The same data, used effectively and responsibly and with the support of patients and the public, has the potential to drive research into new, more effective ways to diagnose cancer early and could support the development of new treatments to improve people’s lives.

It is a really exciting development and has the potential to be a real game-changer.

Exploring the impact of COVID-19

Michael Chapman, NHS Digital Director of Research and Clinical Trials said:

Safe access to data is absolutely vital in helping medical researchers explore the impact of COVID-19 on cancer services and outcomes, and more widely to understand the causes of cancer and how best to diagnose, prevent and treat it.

NHS Digital is committed to making data accessible to researchers in a safe and trusted environment that safeguards patient data at the same time as allowing for world-class research.

Reshaping health and social care system

The response to COVID-19 has shown that timely and appropriate access to high quality data and the right technology can help reshape the health and social care system for the better.

This includes NHS DigiTrials, which provides data services to support clinical trials, reducing the time, effort and cost of developing new drugs, treatments and services for patients.

Alison Allam, DATA-CAN Patient and Public Involvement and Engagement Group, said:

Patients and carers understand the benefits of earlier and more accurate diagnosis and smarter, kinder treatments for cancer and the important role that health data research plays in this.

However, we want to be reassured that our medical data will be treated confidentially and responsibly by those carrying out research.

We therefore welcome the improved safety and reassurance from such data remaining within NHS Digital’s Trusted Research Environment, whilst still allowing access to approved researchers to help improve outcomes for patients.

Further information

DATA-CAN improving patient outcomes

DATA-CAN is making high quality health data more accessible for cancer researchers and health professionals, to help improve cancer services and patient outcomes.

It is one of the Health Data Research UK’s data hubs, funded through UKRI and is a UK-wide partnership, hosted by UCLPartners.

Find out more about DATA-CAN.

About NHS Digital

NHS Digital is the national information and technology partner of the health and care system.

Their team of information analysis, technology and project management experts create, deliver and manage the crucial digital systems, services, products and standards upon which health and care professionals depend.

Their vision is to harness the power of information and technology to make health and care better.

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Top image:  A cancer cell being attacked by lymphocytes (credit: luismmolina, E+ via Getty Images).

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