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BREATHE part of new global collaborative to enable secure COVID-19 data research at scale


The COVID-19 Therapeutics Accelerator has announced a grant to Health Data Research UK to establish a new International COVID-19 Data Research Alliance and Workbench to support the rapid development of insights and treatments to fight the pandemic.

The International Alliance will be supported by a data analysis Workbench, providing a trustworthy platform to access data for collaborative data science. The Workbench will connect to regional and national data infrastructures, including BREATHE – the Health Data Research Hub for Respiratory Health, in partnership with its Trusted Research Environment, SAIL Databank.

Many organisations across the world are conducting studies into COVID-19 and generating data that, when pooled together and reanalysed, can lead to powerful insights that help accelerate the discovery of interventions. However, the data are often siloed, making it difficult for researchers to share and collaborate quickly to leverage the expertise and capabilities of 21st century research and analysis.

The International COVID-19 Data Research Alliance and Workbench will provide an environment for focused collaborative research, matching high value data from many sources with cutting edge analysis to accelerate collaboration, discovery and development of insights and treatments to combat COVID-19, all with privacy and accessibility in mind.

BREATHE facilitates the safe and responsible use of respiratory health data at scale for research and innovation, working in partnership with its Trusted Research Environment, SAIL Databank. This includes managing access to de-identified data from the popular COVID-19 Symptom Study app, developed by Kings College London and ZOE, as well as other crucial sources of respiratory health data.

Aziz Sheikh, Director, BREATHE said  ” Secure and safe access to high quality health data is crucial in the fight against COVID-19. Supported by BREATHE, health data are being used to inform decisions on the management of the virus across the UK. We are delighted to join forces with the COVID-19 Therapeutics Accelerator to help meet the data needs of decision makers, clinicians and academics internationally, as part of this important collaboration.”

The Workbench will provide a set of tools that allows scientists to discover, access and analyse global multi-dimensional datasets and develop an efficient approach to working across boundaries, essential to achieving a rapid response to COVID-19 and future pandemics, whilst respecting confidentiality and privacy.

It will consolidate data and metadata from numerous federated repositories to allow analysts to work collectively on a target problem. Initial projects will focus on clinical trials of existing drugs repurposed for the treatment of COVID-19, and international studies to understand susceptibility and disease progression.

The International Alliance is an independent consortium of leading life science, philanthropic and research organisations uniting to respond to the COVID-19 global pandemic.

Convened by Health Data Research UK, the International Alliance will draw on expertise and work in partnership with the established UK Health Data Research Alliance, to align members to a common set of principles and standards for the ethical and responsible use of data for public benefit. The founding members of the International Alliance bring their collective data assets, expertise and funding, and include the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Minderoo Foundation, Wellcome, African Academy of Sciences, HDR Network Canada, Genomics England, and the Infectious Diseases Data Observatory.

The International Alliance is seeking membership from organisations such as life science companies, academic institutions and clinical research organisations that control vital research, health and biomedical datasets. Whilst the International Alliance will not hold or control data itself, the aim is for its members’ datasets to be listed on the Health Data Research Innovation Gateway, enabling anyone around the world conducting vital research on disease outbreaks to discover and request access to these important datasets.

Sir Mark Walport, Chief Executive, UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), said ” International collaboration around safe and secure data sharing is crucial to improving therapeutic approaches as we advance our knowledge of COVID-19. UKRI is delighted to work with global partners to promote open research and data access with the potential to improve outcomes for COVID-19 patients.”

Graham Spittle, Chair, Health Data Research UK added ” The UK has established a robust infrastructure for uniting, improving, and using health data for research and innovation. We are excited to build on this experience of our community and partners to support this vital global effort against COVID-19 and future outbreaks.

Recent controversies about the safety and effectiveness of new treatments in the treatment of COVID-19 highlight the need for the international community to work in partnership to analyze rapidly the results of multiple clinical trials at scale. The International Alliance aims to enable this in a trustworthy way. We look forward to working in partnership with, and learning from, colleagues internationally.”

The grant has been issued by the COVID-19 Therapeutics Accelerator, a large-scale initiative led by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Wellcome, Mastercard and Minderoo Foundation to speed the development of and access to therapies for COVID-19.