A government-funded innovation challenge has brought benefits to the way cancer patients are treated in Scotland.

New technologies have been introduced on the healthcare frontline thanks to collaboration between three data-driven innovation agencies north of the border.

The Data Lab, The Digital Health and Care Innovation Centre and Precision Medicine Scotland have pioneered some world-leading treatments for people affected by cancer.

Under the Cancer Innovation Challenge, launched in 2017, a range of solutions have since been funded and later adopted by the NHS, which are helping clinical diagnosis and patient support.

Three organisations specifically have introduced novel applications to help with breast cancer, for improving quality of life and routine care for patients and the rare cancer mesothelioma .

These were, respectively, London-based businesses, Px HealthCare (Px) and My Clinical Outcomes (MCO) and Edinburgh-headquartered Canon Medical Research Europe.

Px developed its OWise app for breast cancer patients to record their treatment symptoms and side effects, with data delivered to clinicians in real time, directly within an electronic health record system. This allows clinicians to easily track an individual’s progress and recommend adjustments to treatment plans, based on real time data reported by patients. The app was trialled by NHS Lothian and Px has gone on to work with Prostate Scotland, Maggie’s Centres and clinicians of the West of Scotland Cancer Network to develop the OWise platform for prostate cancer patients and their clinicians.

MCO is an online platform which harnesses patient reported data to improve the quality of life of cancer patients through the analysis of side effects and symptoms. Used throughout the diagnosis, treatment and long-term care phases, it provides clinicians with a fuller understanding of their patients’ conditions and how they are responding to treatment. The platform was initially deployed for use by patients with haematological cancer at NHS Ayrshire and Arran and MCO also worked on further Cancer Innovation Challenge projects with Beatson West of Scotland Cancer Centre, NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde and the South and East Scotland Cancer Network. 

The third project was led by Canon Medical Research Europe, an Edinburgh based company specialising in next generation medical imaging software, NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde and the University of Glasgow. The project resulted in the development of a new, world-leading Artificial Intelligence (AI) driven cancer assessment tool using deep learning. The team created a prototype AI system able to automatically find and measure the rare cancer, Mesothelioma, on CT scans and to assess patients’ responses to treatments. Scotland currently has the highest incidence of Mesothelioma in the world, a reflection of the historical use of asbestos in UK industries, such as shipbuilding and construction. 

Karen Watt, chief executive of the Scottish Funding Council, said: “We can do amazing things to tackle the biggest and most difficult challenges we face as a society when we bring together the right people and the right resources to move things forward. 

“The Cancer Innovation Challenge provides a model for how this can be done. For the Innovation Centres and their partners, it created the stimulus and supplied the framework for a raft of data science innovations. It’s fascinating and also heartening to see in this report how these are now transforming the lives of cancer patients. I am proud we were able to play a part in this pioneering initiative.”