A £10.5m prostate cancer project led by a researcher at Aberdeen University will use big data to answer critical questions about the disease.

Prostate cancer is the most common cancer of men in Europe, making up 1 in 10 of all male cancer deaths. It affects at least as many people and is as deadly as breast cancer; however, up until now has received far less research funding, and progress made in the field is limited compared with other major cancer types.

Healthcare costs related to prostate cancer were estimated at £7.45bn per year in the EU in 2009 and accounted for 7% of all cancer costs in Europe.

The PIONEER European Commission IMI funded project, led by Professor James N’Dow, aims to plug the gaps in the knowledge of the management and treatment of the disease in order to provide better outcomes for patients.

Areas requiring further investigation related to screening, diagnosis and treatment of prostate cancer patients include:

  • lack of standardisation of prostate cancer definitions across all stages of the disease;
  • insufficient knowledge of the risk factors for developing prostate cancer;
  • insufficient knowledge of patient characteristics, including genetic profiles, for optimal stratification of patients at time of diagnosis;
  • lack of meaningful engagement of all key stakeholders, including patients, when defining core disease outcome sets;
  • lack of effective implementation of knowledge gained into clinical practice including knowledge informed by real-world data.

This lack of knowledge means it is harder to predict which patients will have the best outcomes with specific treatments or which patients can be managed safely without treatment.

The PIONEER project incorporates 32 institutions and companies from nine countries, will begin by consulting with clinicians, patients, researchers and other stakeholders to create a list of research priorities.

They will then create a single innovative data platform by integrating existing big data from many quality data sources from cancer patients across many different stages of the disease.

Professor James N’Dow said: “PIONEER has the potential to create a real step change in the treatment of prostate cancer.

“Along with our collaborators we will coordinate a wide ranging consultation with key stakeholders and collate and harmonise massive amounts of data already collected from prostate cancer patients to transform the field of prostate cancer care.”

“This will be done with particular focus on improving prostate cancer-related outcomes, health system efficiency and the quality of health and social care delivered to all prostate cancer patients and their families. In addition, PIONEER will aim to provide standardised care pathways for all clinical centres across Europe and beyond.”

The University of Aberdeen brings to the consortium critical expertise in outcomes research by members of the Academic Urology Unit, with major contributions from Steven MacLennan, Sara MacLennan and Imran Omar.