MyPal coordinator, Vassilis Koutkias, discusses his hopes for the project and the challenges it faces.

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your background?

I am a Principal Research Scientist with the Institute of Applied Biosciences (INAB), at the Centre of Research & Technology Hellas (CERTH), where I lead the eHealth Laboratory. My research in eHealth focuses on two major areas, namely, drug safety and personal health systems.

Since 2000, I have worked on more than 20 international EU-funded projects in these two areas, mostly with academic and research institutions in Greece and France. The work in France was funded through an individual Marie-Curie fellowship.

What is your role on the project?

My role involves coordinating and supervising all the project’s activities to make sure that it fulfils its objectives and achieves its expected impacts. In addition, I act as the main communication point for the MyPal Consortium with the European Commission, the scientific community and all other relevant stakeholders.

It is very difficult to get European H2020 funding. What do you think were the main reasons MyPal was successful?

The EU had a special call for projects with innovative approaches to palliative care. MyPal was funded as one of those 10 projects.

While there is a lot of hype about technology-enabled patient participation in care, we still lack comprehensive approaches that can be adapted to the personal needs and preferences of the patients. This is especially true for cancer palliative care, where Patient Reported Outcome (PRO) systems are still in their infancy.

In this context, I think MyPal’s proposal to use electronic PROs as an integral part of the patients’ care was seen as a real paradigm shift.

In addition, MyPal gathers a truly multidisciplinary team. We have experts in cancer palliative care, oncology, health psychology, ethics, user requirements engineering, eHealth systems and services, evaluation and impact assessment: all the necessary expertise and excellence to help the project achieve its goals. I think both were key reasons MyPal was successful in being funded.

What are your hopes for MyPal?

My hopes for MyPal are closely tied to the aims of the project itself.

The aim of MyPal is to help improve supportive and palliative care for cancer patients and their caregivers. It does this by enabling patients to more accurately record any changes in their symptoms and condition and then communicate this to their healthcare providers in a seamless and effective way. By promptly identifying important deviations in the patient’s state and quality of life, there is the possibility of enhancing the care they receive.

I hope that this will be successfully tested during the two clinical studies that MyPal will conduct. They are MyPal-ADULT, a randomised control trial (RCT) for adult patients with hematologic malignancies, and MyPal-CHILD, a non-experimental observational study for children with hematologic malignancies or solid tumors.

As well as the scientific research, I will be very pleased if the project also improves the way cancer patients and their healthcare providers, communicate with each other, and that this has benefits for the patient’s everyday life.

What do you think are the greatest challenges the project faces?

MyPal faces considerable challenges in both scientific and practical terms.

First, there is the “tight” implementation schedule. We need the system and the apps we are going to use to be fully tested and ready by spring 2020. This is so that the two clinical studies, MyPal-ADULT and MyPal-CHILD, can start on time and according to plan.

Then there is the multidsciplinary nature of the project. The technical teams need to know exactly what is required from the clinical teams. This requires a lot of intense collaboration and cooperation between all the different partners, especially during the initial intervention design phase.

Finally, there are the challenges of conducting multicentre clinical studies for a digital health intervention. This is difficult in itself, and within the MyPal project we are carrying out the studies in six hospitals across five European countries, which adds another level of complexity entirely. Despite these difficulties, we are confident that we can meet the deadlines and make an important contribution to future supportive and palliative care.