How PIONEER evolves to meet current and anticipated market requirements, through technology advancements and investing in our workforce
22 August 2022
At PIONEER, access to detailed, individually linked health data, supported by expert consultancy and highly trained staff, is transforming healthcare for our population.
We achieve this through three founding principles:
- We understand and anticipate customer needs through market analysis.
- We are responsible, supporting patient/public-endorsed data sharing under license which instils confidence in Data Controllers and the public.
- We are forward-thinking and strive for excellence: An industry-standards approach; continually evaluating and adopting new technologies.
PIONEER’s sustainability includes a four part-model:
- Product: Offering the highest quality product (data, safe haven and bespoke Trusted Research Environments (TRE)).
- Process: Data access, curated to match end-user need, provided in a timely manner
- Impact: To build awareness of PIONEER and our offer.
- Funding opportunities/partnerships: A mixed model informed by cross-sector feedback including NHS, academic, large companies and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).
PIONEER continues to expand the number and quality of datasets on the HDRUK gateway, with >40 platinum offerings currently available. The improved metadata richness, technical quality, increased specialty data and modalities have resulted in securing additional contracts and opportunities in eight sectors; four of these being industry, and grant awards from prestigious funders, equating to £22.8M in secured awards with our academic partners.
A HIGH-QUALITY PRODUCT
PIONEER is a model we designed and own. A scalable, interoperable system that can be federated to deliver high agility regionally, nationally and internationally.
Using our industry and academic networks, we ensure our products and services meet current and importantly, anticipate future market requirements, which inform our development pipeline. An example of our responsiveness includes working with a large pharma company to understand their product pipeline and building two data assets to meet projected need.
PIONEER’s TREs form part of an infrastructure suite managing the flow of data from clinical systems to bespoke research datasets, in near real time. Our research platform includes multi-petabyte long-term storage for pseudonymised research-ready clinical data assets – including images – alongside state-of-the-art computer resources for low-cost machine learning and algorithm development.
Servicing projects (from SME/academic projects using structured data to a Microsoft InnerEye project using AI across thousands of scans) has honed our pricing model, with dashboards built to track and flag consumption against spend limits in real-time. We monitor customer TRE spend to ensure delivery to budget.
Market analysis and business engagement identified a key requirement to address the financial impact of using TREs. To respond to this pressing customer need, the PIONEER Research Architecture has expanded, with Medical Research Council (MRC) capital funding enabling the provision of a high specification server on-premise. This machine can run complex machine learning without incurring any of the cloud consumption costs, opening opportunities for academics and SMEs to benefit from a TRE offer at a lower price point. Since launch (January 2022), several projects are using this hybrid infrastructure. Additionally, Microsoft expert input (provided as a no-cost collaboration) has enabled the design, build, test and run of a ‘virtual’ TRE that shares cloud resources whilst still maintaining security of each researcher’s environment – another highly cost-efficient addition to our offer which equated to 80% reduction in monthly TRE invoices. See Figure 1 for a technical overview of our system.
The Pioneer TRE platform has transformed from a revolutionary phase to an evolutionary roadmap, which allows the secure introduction of new features to support research activity. Examples include machine learning, package management, application services, and the federation of metadata with summary analytics. Sustainability is attained by consistently challenging the cost profile of the technologies whilst maintaining security.
Our standards-based TRE is compliant with security principles recommended by the UK National Cyber Security Centre. The design is regularly penetration tested for vulnerabilities by QinetiQ, a subsidiary of the UK’s leading defence contractor.
Platform evolution for sustainability
Next, PIONEER will gain ISO27001 accreditation, to enable alignment with other industry offers. Obtaining this certification demonstrates PIONEER’s maturity, highlights the quality of our offer, sets us apart from many platforms and is a key component of our sustainability planning.
Valuing our people
Our product offer is supported by a dedicated resource pool of experienced technicians. Our workforce is a considerable asset for sustainability, and PIONEER invests in people by supporting professional and academic qualifications. This includes the early career MS Azure Fundamentals certification and Masters, advanced MS Azure DevOps Engineer/Solutions Architect, project management certifications, technical showcases and PhDs. This ensures we attract and retain the best people who feel valued through our investment in their development.
TRUSTED AND RESPONSIVE PROCESSES
PIONEER has established robust processes to ensure timely, effective, and ethical access to large-scale health datasets at pace and scale, through iterative cycles of run, measure, improve. These include:
- Strong quality assurance (policy) and quality control (checking) processes, underpinned by documented and evidenced standard operating procedures (SOPS), managing the full workflow from identifying candidate clinical data through to “research ready” data ingress into TREs.
- Expertise in standard data models, building datasets to exact requirements including data language.
- In house expertise in building synthetic datasets including images.
- A governance model which builds trust and provides patient and public oversight. Co-built and transparent, ensuring data access is legal, ethically and CAG approved with full public oversight, and now shared across 3 other large NHS Trusts. Our data curation SOPs are working across five NHS hospitals, an ambulance service and primary care.
- A single point of contact for customers with a Data Concierge team and a Senior Business Engagement Manager, to focus on customer need.
In servicing over 50 requests, we know how to build strong relationships with our customers, attracting key, time-critical projects with academia and industry. Examples include reviewing NHS England policy for virtual wards, wider roll out of NEWS2 and “Reasons to Reside” criteria, and a large pharma project seeking to understand the real-world roll-out of a newly launched COVID-19 medication.
PIONEER recognises the importance of exemplar outputs and networking events to increase awareness and gain insight into end-user requirements.
Key metrics include:
- Enabling data access by over 225 analysts from across the UK.
- Receiving 58 data sharing requests (21 February 2020) with funding models confirmed.
- Being cited on 18 academic publications, with four more in preparation.
- Data Licensing Agreements signed with more than 30 academic and commercial entities, with repeat business a common outcome.
- Built and tested decision support tools and care guidelines which have changed NHS care pathways. Examples include N-acetylcysteine automatic dosing prompts for paracetamol overdoses; improving patient selection for Same Day Emergency Care; presenting a roadmap to improve compliance with Deep Vein Thrombosis prevention strategies in NHS hospitals.
- Insights shared globally, with COVID infographics reaching all continents in six languages.
We are proud to present the following specific examples.
- Our Microsoft Azure platform has grown to support a multitude of academic and industry projects, with cutting-edge safe-haven and TRE blueprints. Projects include an advanced TRE for use by Microsoft Research, to provide a platform to work with NHS England and Cambridge University on national regulatory validation models for medical images.
- Our DARE UKRI award for FED-NET provides a scalable solution to the technical and governance challenges of analysing datasets separated by geography and data language. This project scales existing TREs using ‘federated analytics’, where the data stays put and the analysis moves. As part of this, we are testing the limitations of common data standards for cross-council projects, focusing on data highly valued in research but rarely available.
- Due to our proven success and learning over the last two years, PIONEER has been asked to present at National Conferences, key Microsoft Industry events and lead sessions with HDR-UK Alliance members, to discuss TRE cost models and sustainability. The PIONEER Technical Team have run sessions and provide guidance on their creation and commercialisation to five fellow HDR-UK hubs. As a result, we have been awarded funding to produce a guide to synthetic data with the BREATHE Hub.
MAXIMISING FUNDING OPPORTUNITIES/PARTNERSHIPS
Our activity and future data pipeline are informed by end-user needs and our proven track record in delivery has led to the following opportunities being realised.
- Seven grants awarded in the past 24 months, valued at over £22.8m, which include PIONEER operating costs from prestigious funders such as ERDF, EPSRC, NIHR, Wellcome Trust, MRC, Innovate UK and the Dunhill Medical Trust. This includes working with World Class Labs, the EDRF DEMAND Hub, and NIHR Applied Research Centre West Midlands.
- PIONEER has been costed into further funding applications, including Birmingham’s NIHR Biomedical Research Centre and a NIHR Patient Safety Research Collaboration, providing potential stability for the next five years.
- PIONEER is supporting future research leaders, with costed activity in MRC, Wellcome Trust, NIHR and CRN Fellowships and personal awards. PIONEER provides opportunities for early career researchers with access to our TREs and data such as a hypoxia project with researchers at the University of Cambridge.
- PIONEER has a sustainable funding model with repeat commercial funding secured from international pharma, consultancy and SMEs.
Our commercial and consultancy work, alongside our grant funding enables PIONEER to support clinical projects within the NHS and reduce costs to support SMEs.
In keeping with our name, we continue to “PIONEER” with a 10-year vision and a five-year plan. We look forward to reporting the next stage of our development, as our reach and activity grow.
Impact of the Hubs
Hubs are centres of excellence with expertise, tools, knowledge and ways of working to maximise the insights and innovations developed from health data.
PIONEER – Our Hub for Acute Care
PIONEER allows innovative healthcare companies to develop, test and deliver advances in clinical care.