New research project OPTIMA has launched with CASUS as a co-leader for work package “AI knowledge base implementation”

The Innovative Medicines Initiative (IMI) has announced the launch of OPTIMA (Optimal Treatment for Patients with Solid Tumours in Europe Through Artificial intelligence). The 21.3m euro public-private research program will seek to use artificial intelligence (AI) to improve care for patients with prostate, breast and lung cancer. OPTIMA’s goal is to design, develop and deliver the first interoperable, data protection compliant real-world oncology data and evidence generation platform in Europe. The Center for Advanced Systems Understanding (CASUS) at the Helmholtz-Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf (HZDR) is one of the 36 partners from across 13 countries behind OPTIMA. As co-leaders of one of OPTIMA’s nine work packages CASUS and pharma company Pfizer will focus on implementing an AI knowledge base and creating explainable AI tools to support decisions in the clinics.

The OPTIMA consortium members are multidisciplinary private and public stakeholders in the clinical, academic, patient, regulatory, data sciences, legal and ethical and pharmaceutical fields. To achieve the ambitious goal of advancing treatment for patients with solid tumors (more specifically in prostate, breast and lung cancer), OPTIMA intends to:

  • Establish a secure, large-scale evidence data platform for prostate, breast and lung cancer that includes real-world data from more than 200 million people. With a focus on patient privacy, the platform will be GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation)-compliant. The interoperable platform will host datasets, data analysis tools, federated learning tools, AI algorithms and electronic decision support tools.
  • Drive new knowledge generation by developing advanced analytics and AI models to identify, prioritize and fill the main knowledge gaps in prostate, breast and lung cancer – and propose improved clinical guideline recommendations.
  • Develop AI-based tools to support care decisions based on the leading clinical practice guidelines for prostate, breast and lung cancer.

These new tools and models shall enable the processing of high-dimensional data from various sources such as medical images to identify factors that enable individualized care decisions – ultimately informing personalized treatment for patients with solid tumors.

“OPTIMA’s main objective is to harness the potential of AI to enable healthcare professionals to provide the most optimal personalized care for each individual patient living with prostate, breast and lung cancer and their families,” says Prof. James N’Dow from the European Association of Urology and Academic Urology Unit at the University of Aberdeen (UK). “This is an ambitious goal and one that the entire OPTIMA consortium is dedicated to delivering, building on the diverse knowledge base and expertise of our consortium members. By working together, we hope to deliver meaningful improvements in cancer care,” continues N’Dow who jointly leads OPTIMA together with Dr. Hagen Krüger, Medical Director Oncology, Pfizer Germany.

Krüger adds: “While healthcare has begun to take advantage of AI to improve treatment for patients with cancer, there is still immense untapped potential to integrate these next-generation tools into care models and decision-making. We hope that OPTIMA will be a key driver in the development of personalized treatments that recognize each patient’s individual needs.”

Work package 7 under CASUS leadership

Co-leading work package 7 “AI knowledge base implementation”, CASUS and Pfizer will create explainable AI tools to support decisions in the clinics based on a variety of data sources and data sets including (non)interventional study data and real-world data. Both consortium members will also lead the work to establish automated processes that will enable the continuous validation and improvement of machine learning models.

Finally, CASUS and Pfizer will support creating a platform for the analysis of patient-level data to enable more complex AI analytics. Dr. Michael Bussmann, Scientific Head of CASUS, points out a longer-term project goal: “Our platform will allow the development and integration of new AI models by users that come from beyond the OPTIMA consortium or that encounter the platform only in the future. Prerequisites are that these models pass a strict clinical validation and they get approval by the OPTIMA Scientific Governance Board.”

With its diverse multidisciplinary membership, the OPTIMA consortium is uniquely positioned to develop healthcare evidence-generation practices for the incorporation of real-world evidence into clinical practice guidelines (CPGs). If successful, OPTIMA may also help to establish best practice procedures for CPG development that incorporate analytics and evidence informed by AI models.

OPTIMA is building on other IMI projects such as EHDEN, Harmony and (underpinned by CASUS) PIONEER. These projects are supporting the European Health Data Space (EHDS) – a European Commission initiative to promote better exchange and access to different types of health data to support healthcare delivery as well as health research and policy. If it is successful, OPTIMA could not only contribute knowledge and data to the EHDS, but may also inform European policy regarding the clinical deployment of AI algorithms in healthcare.


The project Optimal Treatment for Patients with Solid Tumours in Europe Through Artificial intelligence (OPTIMA) is funded through the Innovative Medicines Initiative (IMI) 2 Joint Undertaking – an undertaking of the European Union through its Horizon 2020 research and innovation program, and the European Federation of Pharmaceutical Industries and Associations (EFPIA). OPTIMA is listed under grant agreement No. 101034347. IMI supports collaborative research projects and builds networks of industrial and academic experts in order to boost pharmaceutical innovation in Europe.

About the Center for Advanced Systems Understanding

CASUS was founded 2019 in Görlitz/Germany and pursues data-intensive interdisciplinary systems research in such diverse disciplines as earth system research, systems biology or materials research. The goal of CASUS is to create digital images of complex systems of unprecedented fidelity to reality with innovative methods from mathematics, theoretical systems research, simulations as well as data and computer science to give answers to urgent societal questions. Partners are the Helmholtz-Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf (HZDR), the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research in Leipzig (UFZ), the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics in Dresden (MPI-CBG), the Technical University of Dresden (TUD) and the University of Wrocław. CASUS is funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) and the Saxon State Ministry for Science, Culture and Tourism.

The OPTIMA logo reflects both the network and the digitization characteristics of the project. © OPTIMA (A high-resolution picture is available upon request.)