The OpenSAFELY platform will support the discovery of new treatments

The NHS has announced the expansion of its COVID-19 research platform, OpenSAFELY, to help find new treatments for other major diseases.

The widening of the service could lead to the discovery of new treatments for other major conditions, including cancer, diabetes and asthma.

Supported by GPs and academic researchers, the expanded service will allow scientists to securely analyse data in GP systems and will help researchers further understand medicines, treatments and patient outcomes to support clinical practice and provide important evidence on effective prescribing.

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, academic researchers used anonymised NHS data to identify new treatments for the SARS-CoV-2 virus and establish the best ways to keep communities safe.

Along with developing vaccines against the virus, the platform also helped the NHS prioritise care for the most vulnerable.

NHS England’s OpenSAFELY service, which was used to deliver insights throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, has enabled over 150 research projects from 22 organisations.

Developed in collaboration with the Bennett Institute for Applied Data Science at the University of Oxford, the service works to keep patient data confidential and secure.

Looking beyond COVID-19 and building on the government's Data Saves Lives Strategy, the NHS will carefully test which types of research services could be supported to support safe access to data for life-saving research.

As well as supporting health and care systems to meet their commitments in the Data Strategy, the public will also be able to find out more about these programmes and have their say on digital and data transformation in the NHS.

NHS national medical director for transformation, Dr Vin Diwakar, said: “This approach enables researchers to benefit from that valuable resource, whilst keeping the data secure, safe and private.

“Expanding this service will unlock the power of patient data to help drive life-saving treatment breakthroughs to help people with a range of conditions and illnesses.”

In 2024, OpenSAFELY will be available to new research applicants.