Cancer data: Are you ready to meet your DigiTwin? (Guest blog)

These days we hear a lot about how big data and personalised medicine will radically change cancer care. Sometimes it can feel as though these advances are remote or futuristic. However, at a multi-stakeholder event on data in oncology, this real potential arising from a combination of our deepening understanding of biology and the predictive power of artificial intelligence (AI) crystalized in my mind.

I was representing the EFPIA Oncology Platform at the meeting in Bucharest which was attended by company representatives, national and international experts, academics, and authorities. Together, we discussed how to unleash the potential of data in the fight against cancer.

The big take-home question for me was: Will I have a DigiTwin alias a digital twin?

This idea is rapidly gathering momentum thanks to the development of predictive models and purpose-built computational approaches, including AI. Experts discussed how these tools can be used to guide medical decisions and provide the most effective therapy or prevention recommendations for individuals.

This means that instead of testing an intervention on me, all possible preventative and treatment options will be first tested on my personal digital twin, to identify the best option. This virtual version of me will help to make personalised medicine real – improving outcomes in the process.

Ivana Cattaneo

Ivana Cattaneo is Chair of the EFPIA Oncology Platform. She works as Executive Director Oncology Policy and Healthcare...
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Transforming Healthcare through a New Era of Data and Analytics, Maurits-Jan Prinz, F. Hoffmann-La Roche Ltd., Value of Data in Oncology Conference, InoMed, 5 June 2019

A golden opportunity
We are at an historical moment. We have, in principle, everything we need to make this happen. But we need a vision – a vision at the level of each EU citizen as well as at a system level – and we need the political will to unleash the power of data.

If we get this right, data can realise the potential of personalized medicine whilst making the healthcare system sustainable and efficient. This is a chance to do the right thing for individuals and for society as a whole
The data-fuelled revolution may help us to balance the ‘trilemma’ of access, innovation and affordability, if we can work together to address questions regarding what is public and what is private.

Overcoming these challenges requires energy and resources but it will be worth it. We are faced with a huge opportunity. Using advanced analytics, we can move from developing the right treatment for patients to transforming the healthcare system into a more patient centric and efficient service.

Europe’s role
It was heartening to hear a representative from the European Commission expressing their hope for progress on personalized medicine and their openness to discussing policies to incentivize the sharing of data.

Looking ahead, Europe has a fundamental role. We need agreement at EU level – reflected in national cancer plans – if we want to make a breakthrough and put in place policies that help turn data into innovation. We also need multidisciplinary funding to support collaboration in this area.

Now is the time to act and to view data as a solution to unsustainability. It is time to move from the concept of IT as a way to store information, to viewing IT as a tool for delivering efficient cancer care – and identifying new areas of research, expediting clinical trial recruitment, and enabling novel payment models.

We are not starting from scratch. There are already examples of collaboration that leverage data including the CODE project and the IMI Harmony Alliance which is orchestrating the consolidation of all relevant databases on malignant haematology on a common platform.

So, can I really expect to meet my DigiTwin?
The answer is yes, if we come together. More than a million people in the EU die from cancer every year. Behind each person is a life story, a family, creativity and love – all of which is lost.

The title of the event in Bucharest captured the task ahead: Data, Technology and the Human Touch. Let’s join forces to unlock the mysteries of cancer through data – but let’s not forget the human touch. The future of cancer care – even in an era of digital twins – is personal.