A Hosted TRE for COVID-19 vaccine research: delivering full TRE safeguards without a full TRE

What is a SeRP Hosted TRE hub?

One of the latest technological advances at SeRP, the Hosted TRE, allows data projects to sit as a self-contained research programme inside a host organisations Trusted Research Environment (TRE).

This means that the Hosted TRE hub will benefit from the security, infrastructure and governance of the host TRE without the operational and financial commitment of creating a separate TRE. Researchers accessing the hub will also benefit from the robust technical foundations and software tools of an established TRE for simplified cohort analysis.

One such hub, called COALESCE, sits within the SeRP-powered SAIL Databank TRE, providing access to multiple COVID-19 vaccination cohort study data combined with routinely collected health data which is governed by SAIL’s renowned privacy-by-design principles.

What is COALESCE?

COALESCE stands for: Capacity and capability Of UK-wide Analysts to Leverage health data at Scale using COVID-19 as an Exemplar. COALESCE is co-led by Scotland’s EAVE II project at Edinburgh University and the British Heart Foundation Data Science Centre led by Health Data Research UK.

The primary aim of the project is to provide both the UK and devolved governments (Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales) with the information necessary to actionably improve COVID-19 vaccine uptake and coverage. Furthermore, COALESCE aims to develop analytical processes and procedures that will allow for future UK-wide COVID-19 studies.

Why COALESCE?

England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland each have different methods for recording their patient data. This includes using different ‘languages’ to record and organise said data. This makes it difficult for researchers to link together similar data from across the four nations, as it is all recorded and organised in different ways.

There are challenges related to researchers accessing such large datasets from across the country. COALESCE will provide both UK and devolved governments with data-driven, usable insights that can be used to improve COVID-19 vaccine uptake and coverage. COALESCE is examining adverse health outcomes in sub-optimally vaccinated groups – those eligible to receive a dose of a vaccine but have not been vaccinated.

How does a SeRP Hosted TRE hub enable COALECSE?

The COALESCE hub of multi-study cohort data sits within the SAIL Databank TRE, separated and self-contained, but governed by SAIL’s robust privacy-by-design principles. The SAIL privacy-by-design model encompasses a suite of SeRP-enabled physical, technical and procedural controls applied to the data and the data environment. SeRP’s data access controls ensure that researchers are only allowed to view the data and not to have data extracted from the databank.

The hub is protected by SeRP’s technical safeguards to provide the highest levels of privacy risk management that meets ISO 27001 standards: an internationally recognised best-practice standard for an information Security Management System (ISMS). The result is that SAIL Databank is entrusted by organisations like the NHS and the Office for National Statistics, and is endorsed by the British Medical Association.

The hub brings data from multiple COVID-19 vaccine cohort studies together which has, until now, been collected by individual research projects to enable their coordinated use for UK-wide insights. The hub combines this data with routinely-collected health records to provide data-driven insights into COVID-19 vaccination coverage and establish data pooling methods and infrastructure to pave the way for future UK-wide studies.

Chief Technical Officer at SeRP, Professor Simon Thompson, said, 

“The COALESCE Hosted TRE hub, wrapped inside SAIL Databank’s trusted data safe haven, delivers all the benefits of a TRE without the traditional cost and effort of establishing a new, stand-alone TRE. By bringing together multiple data sources in one location, protected by the host’s governance framework, a SeRP Hosted TRE helps to widen access to TRE infrastructure to ensure data utility is maximised for projects of all shapes and sizes”.

What impact is COALESCE having?

COALESCE’s first research study of the entire UK population highlights gaps in COVID-19 vaccine coverage. The research sheds light on vaccine uptake and hesitancy which could inform policy-makers and public health campaigns for future COVID-19 and flu jab roll-outs.

In the study, scientists from England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales studied securely-held, routinely collected NHS data from 67m people over the age of 5 for the period June 1st to September 30th 2022.

In Wales, A SeRP Hosted TRE hub within SAIL Databank was used to provide de-identified data, that combined Welsh health records with data from multiple, independent COVID-19 vaccine studies, for approved researchers.

The full findings of the research are published in the Lancet

Find out more about the COALESCE study – https://www.ed.ac.uk/usher/eave-ii/connected-projects/coalesce/about-coalesce

Discover more about SeRP Hubs in this interview with SeRP Co-director, Professor Simon Thompson: