Cancer Innovation Challenge


Transforming the lives of cancer patients with data - open innovation in data to help Scotland become a world leader in cancer care.

The Cancer Innovation Challenge was a £1m project funded by the Scottish Government through the Scottish Funding Council (SFC) to encourage Innovation Centres in Scotland to work in partnership to help NHS Scotland become a world leading carer for people with cancer.

The project brought together three Innovation Centres, led by The Data Lab in collaboration with the Digital Health and Care Institute (DHI) and Stratified Medicine Scotland (SMS).

IHDP supported the project alongside NHS National Services Scotland (NSS), University of Edinburgh, University of Stirling and the Health & Social Care Alliance.

Activities for the Challenge centred around two key workstreams:

  1. New approaches and tools to record and integrate patient reported data into routine cancer care.
  2. Innovative data science solutions to improve cancer care and outcomes.

Funding calls around these workstreams were open to technical innovation SME companies to develop technical solutions of benefit to patients, clinicians and services.

The Challenge also included a programme of activities surrounding each work stream involving industry, the public and a variety of stakeholders in the wider health sector.

The Challenge aimed to:

  • Create activities to bring together the Innovation Centres, academia, NHS and industry to create value from cancer data assets across Scotland
  • Enable innovations that can be implemented by NHS Scotland and beyond
  • Encourage data innovation in healthcare from all sectors


Patient reported data

Patient Reported Outcome Measures (PROMs) are questions which measure patients’ views of their health, disability and health-related quality of life.

Patient Reported Experience Measuress (PREMS) are used to understand patients’ views on their experience while receiving care, rather than the outcome of that care.

Why are PROMS and PREMS important?

In addition to improving survival, the treatment of cancer aims to improve the quality of life for people who are affected. The symptoms of cancer and the side effects of treatment can affect people in different ways. Other aspects can also influence quality of life such as the experience of the NHS service, effects on families, personal finances or other psychological and social factors. Once treatment is over, patients often have to deal with physical, psychological and practical changes affecting everyday activities, relationships, work and wellbeing. Some of these changes can pose long term challenges and difficulties. Patient reported outcome and experience measures (PROMs and PREMs) have been developed to enable patients’ subjective reports and experiences of health, illness and treatment to be measured consistently and accurately.

The goal of this workstream was to create a mechanism to enable understanding of the patients’ viewpoint, to inform their care.

Innovative data science solutions

Outcomes for cancer patients in Scotland lag behind those of our Northern European counterparts. Scotland has some of the best health service data in the world - few other countries have information which combines high quality data, consistency, national coverage and the ability to link data to allow patient based analysis and follow up. This Challenge asked the question “How can data science be applied to existing NHS Scotland data to improve cancer patient care and outcomes?”

Scotland provides a unique test bed for exploration into innovative technological solutions to accessing large volumes of data, for example patients’ demographics as well as their pathways to diagnosis, treatment and long term follow up.

The goal of this workstream was to develop solutions using existing NHS Scotland data to improve cancer patient care and outcomes in Scotland.


The Cancer Innovation Challenge issued funding calls based on the Innovate UK Small Business Research Initiative (SBRI) framework.

SBRI provides innovative solutions to challenges faced by the public sector, leading to better public services and improved efficiency and effectiveness. It supports economic growth and enables the development of innovative products and services through the public procurement of R&D. It generates new business opportunities for companies, provides businesses with a route to market for their ideas and bridges the seed funding gap experienced by many early stage companies.

SBRI is a simple structured process. Typically competitions are structured in two phases:

Phase 1 proposals concentrate on that research and development which will significantly contribute to proving the scientific, technical and commercial feasibility of the proposed project. The results of Phase 1 determine whether the solution should go further to Phase 2, not all projects will progress to Phase 2.

The principal research and development effort takes place in Phase 2, which aims to produce a well-defined prototype. At the end of Phase 2 it is intended that what has been developed will be manufactured and marketed as a way of fulfilling requirements.

At the time of developing the Cancer Innovation Challenge, SBRI was a novel concept in the health sector. All those involved in the challenge - NHS, SMEs, eHealth teams etc. as well as IHDP - were learning about (and gaining from) that process together. SBRI is now much more commonplace across a variety of sectors.

Cancer Innovation Challenge impact story overview

Cancer Innovation Challenge impact story overview
Cancer Innovation Challenge impact story overview

Key learning

  • Having a non-NHS/government lead (such as Data Lab) for innovation challenges helped in bringing a variety of stakeholders together. Likewise, involving an independent and multi-sector programme such as IHDP bought a range of expertise and knowledge to the project which ensured innovations would be of real benefit to the NHS.
  • Access to real data can be challenging in innovation, where the exact use of data is not known at the outset and potential is being explored. The availability of good quality and realistic simulated data can help significantly.
  • Fast paced innovation involving NHS and industry is possible but challenging. Key to success is having influential champions within the relevant Health Board.
  • Industry can find it very difficult to navigate the healthcare innovation landscape in NHS Scotland.
  • Integration with NHS e-health infrastructures remain challenging (but not impossible).
  • Information governance challenges have a particular impact on innovation with data, especially in terms of timeframes to accessing data.
  • There are also challenges around the NHS’s ability to negotiate contractual benefits in an industry collaboration.
  • Despite successful technical implementations, service adoption of innovations in the NHS remain a key challenge. Innovation does not automatically lead to implementation, even where developments are compatible with NHS systems. Much more attention needs to be paid to change management from the start of any project, if implementation is to be achieved.
  • The benefits of technical innovations go beyond the immediate product in development, and can lay foundations for exploring, building and more rapidly deploying solutions which meet broader needs.

Impact Stories

The ways in which IHDP’s approach and activities contributed to improved outcomes and impact are shown through impact stories.

The IHDP Approach