The field of precision oncology research is moving fast – evolving technologies such as Natural Language Processing, AI, and standards such as OMOP present exciting new opportunities to cancer researchers. However, to fully realise the promise of precision oncology, rare patient subgroups are needed, and these in turn require data from very large patient cohorts.
This is the motivating philosophy of the Digital Institute for Cancer Outcomes Research (DIGICORE). DIGICORE is a pan-European research network, comprising 40 cancer centres in 17 countries, created to transform outcomes research in precision oncology –a core priority is to make data available at scale, through using technology-enabled data normalisation.
DIGICORE has a clear vision of how to achieve this, and has recently published its road map in Nature Medicine (Mahon et al, 2024, https://www.nature.com/articles/s41591-023-02715-8). The approach is focused on a minimal data set to adequately describe cancer, supported with technology such as NLP, aligned with OMOP standards, and fully privacy-protecting.
Together, these components underpin “DigiONE”, a Digital Oncology Network for Europe. A six-centre pilot is underway, and DIGICORE has recently been awarded a substantial Interregional Innovation Investment (I3) grant by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) to scale that network to nearly 20 centres or 80,000 new cancer diagnoses per year. For the first time, these centres are able to see a practical, clinically useful, way to digitise cancer care quality management. Prof. Geoff Hall, Chief Clinical Data Officer for HDR-UK explained: “We presented the approach recently to the UK community, and for the first time other UK hospitals could see how to implement Cancer OMOP in a feasible, clinically useful and controlled way to digitise cancer care quality management.”
However, the technology alone is not enough to transform European cancer research. Around that technology are needed the people with skills to build, maintain, and use cancer OMOP for research. To that end, DIGICORE is launching a training programme on research methods, technology and leadership skills. This builds from pilot schemes run internally at DIGICORE, and this new scheme is now open for others to apply to.
The programme is called the IQVIA-DIGICORE Early Career Leadership Programme for OMOP (“IDEAL4OMOP”). This is dedicated to building the next generation of cancer researchers in Europe for large, international outcome research collaborations. The programme not only covers the technical skills required to design and run a cancer OMOP study, but also the leadership and management skills required for complex collaborations – skills which many clinician leaders acknowledge are rarely taught well, if at all.
As well as online and in-person training, a key component of the programme will be practical experience of working on an international OMOP study, for which funding of up to €300,000 will be available for successful teams. Teams that complete the programme will have gone end-to-end from study concept development to a fully completed study with research outputs. As a result, such teams are in a strong position to secure follow-on funds from other sources.
The programme is starting in the spring of 2024, and is currently recruiting. It is designed for a range of disciplines: clinical, pathology, data science and research management – the only prerequisite being a strong interest in and commitment to cancer research. Through participation in the programme, participants will have the opportunity not only to develop their skills, but also build an international network of like-minded researchers, and gain experience of planning and conducting OMOP studies.
IDEAL4OMOP is based on the successful IDEAL4RWE training course which ran in 2022-23 with 4 study teams and over 30 participants. These studies are currently reading out, with the head and neck cancer team having recently presented their five-site study as a poster at ESMO 2023 – with an ambition to build on this success and recruit another four centres. Competitive study funding for was awarded by an independent board, co-chaired by Prof. David Cameron and Prof. Iwona Lugowska. Prof Lugowska commented “It has been so gratifying to see these early career consortia come together and develop important research programmes. We now know we are ready to scale this training to another generation of researchers and more cancers in IDEAL4OMOP”.
In addition to the IDEAL4OMOP programme, DIGICORE is also mobilising working groups to attract younger oncologists and data scientists to contribute to the creation and use of a digital research infrastructure across Europe.
To learn more about these opportunities, and to register for a no-obligation introductory seminar on IDEAL4OMOP, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.