Pioneering Belgian project ATHENA paves the way for Real-World Data reuse in research and personalized care

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Project Athena
ATHENA, a VLAIO-funded multi-stakeholder project, clears the path for increased reuse of Real-World Data in scientific research and healthcare, by introducing innovative solutions and responding to current technical and governance challenges. The project has made significant strides in the field of oncology by developing groundbreaking privacy-preserving machine learning techniques for predictive analytics. The project findings will be presented and discussed at the ATHENA symposium on November 23rd, 2023.

Leuven, Belgium, 21 November 2023

Belgium has potential to become leader in Real-World Data reuse: ATHENA shows us how

Hospitals and healthcare professionals accumulate vast amounts of patient data daily, comprising Real-World Data (RWD) like medical records, imaging data, and lab analyses. These data hold potentially life-saving insights if repurposed for research. “RWD serves as a valuable resource supporting research across multiple domains,” says Roel Wuyts, R&D manager at imec and professor at KU Leuven. “By using RWD to identify patterns, we can assess the long-term effectiveness and safety of treatments across a large population or formulate personalized medicine, tailoring treatments to match particular patient groups.

Despite being an early adopter of electronic health records and historical leader in clinical trials per capita within the EU, Belgium presently lags behind its neighboring countries in effectively leveraging RWD. Urgent challenges, including data standardization, security, patient privacy, and regulatory governance, call for concrete solutions to enhance the country’s data reuse capabilities. ATHENA, short for Augmenting Therapeutic Effectiveness through Novel Analytics, is now providing essential building blocks to tackle these challenges.

Throughout the three-year project duration, ATHENA partners have been developing innovative models to unlock, align, and integrate data for two disease cases: multiple myeloma and bladder cancer. Through federated data management, patient data remains secure within the hospital environment. Instead of collecting patient data from collaborating healthcare centers and performing machine learning manipulations on the data as a whole, analyses are performed on data while at the hospital level. Wuyts adds: “We guarantee full patient privacy by conducting analyses on-site and only sharing patterns and insights.” ATHENA’s federated approach provides a technical solution that effectively mitigates complex governance and legal challenges.  

A pioneering project presenting recommendations for a clear path forward

To support easy reuse of RWD, it is essential to focus on the governance aspects as well. “Next to an updated data infrastructure, a solid data governance framework needs to be decided upon and implemented,” says Ingrid Maes, Managing Director and Co-founder at Inovigate, “Today, such a framework is missing in Belgium.” ATHENA partners have elaborated a governance model to ensure that patient data can be reused in a safe and privacy-preserving way. By implementing the key building blocks and recommendations devised in the ATHENA project, the government can construct an appropriate legislative framework, allowing Belgium to reclaim its leadership in digital health and RWD.

ATHENA stands out as a multi-stakeholder initiative, setting it apart from various single-stakeholder projects. Maes emphasizes, “Instead of reflecting the perspective of a single entity, ATHENA integrates insights from hospitals, patient organizations, academic institutes, life science industry, and pharmaceutical companies. The solutions proposed in the ATHENA project garner support from all these stakeholders.”

About the ATHENA symposium: Data driven Innovation in Personalized Medicine and Care

ATHENA is hosting a symposium on 23 November to communicate the findings and recommendations it has produced. The consortium partners will showcase their work on various topics, including opportunities in personalized medicine, legal and ethical frameworks, data challenges, and advanced analytics. The symposium will also include insights from external experts, featuring professor Dani Prieto-Alhambra, Head of the Health Data Sciences Department at Oxford University, as the keynote speaker.

Practical details:

  • Date: 23 November, 12:00-18:40
  • Location: Imec, Kapeldreef 75, Leuven

We kindly welcome journalists to attend the symposium. For more information, please reach out to

About the ATHENA consortium

The ATHENA partnership is funded by the Flemish government (VLAIO) and brings together world-class research institutes and medical data partners. Project partners Janssen Pharmaceutica, Illumina, Inovigate, Robovision, imec, KU Leuven, and UGent lend their expertise to the project. The hospitals partners include AZ Groeninge, CHU de Liège, OLV Aalst, and ZOL Genk.

About Inovigate

Inovigate is an independent strategy and management consulting company operating in the European Life Science and Healthcare industry, specialized in helping clients to innovate and navigate through an increasingly complex health ecosystem. Their experience gained through the many strategy and transformation projects allows them to consolidate multiple methodologies and tools into a unique Inovigate approach that is tailored to the specific client need. Their focus is on actionable outcomes and results that can be implemented immediately.

For more information, please visit

About imec

Imec is a world-leading research and innovation hub in nanoelectronics and digital technologies. The combination of their widely acclaimed leadership in microchip technology and profound software and ICT expertise is what makes them unique. By leveraging their world-class infrastructure and local and global ecosystem of partners across a multitude of industries, they create groundbreaking innovation in application domains such as healthcare, smart cities and mobility, logistics and manufacturing, energy and education. As a trusted partner for companies, start-ups and universities they bring together more than 4,500 brilliant minds from almost 100 nationalities. Imec is headquartered in Leuven, Belgium and has distributed R&D groups at a number of Flemish universities, in the Netherlands, Taiwan, USA, and has offices in China, India and Japan.

Further information on imec can be found at