As part of Curia’s NHS Innovation and Life Sciences Commission, the Commissioners held a rich discussion on the needed clinical research infrastructure.
Earlier this month the NHS Innovation & Life Sciences Commission held its third inquiry session. The discussion was chaired by Lord James O’Shaughnessy and Professor Mike Bewick, co-chairs of the Commission, with a focus on the critical role of clinical research. Lord O’Shaughnessy was joined by eight fantastic panellists, as well as the Commissioners.
Clinical research has perhaps ever been more important than in the past two years. The Coronavirus pandemic meant that Clinicians across the world were pressed to find new solutions and treatments for a disease that was sprung on the world population.
In this inquiry, the Commissioners and expert speakers discussed implementable solutions to improve health outcomes and reduce health inequalities.
Improving clinical research
One of the first points discussed was the idea that clinical research could be improved in the United Kingdom. Lindsey Hughes, Director of Research & Engagement at NHS England, spoke about the recent goals that NHS England set out with the Accelerated Access Collaborative (AAC). She said:
“We committed that every patient should be supported to take part in research appropriate for them and that every NHS organisation should be involved in clinical research. To deliver that we are developing a programme of work that will concentrate on three really important areas for improvement.
“One area is to increase diversity in research, not only in participants but also diversity in our workforce. Another is to increase the scale of research and finally, to increase the efficiency of research.”
Nicole Mather, Non-Executive Director at the Health Research Authority, is working on a project that will improve the process of clinical trials while retaining the same level of robustness. She explained:
“One of the things we’re looking at is user-centred design and how we can implement that in clinical trials. This is where you’d design trials with the patient and the trialist at the centre of it, and create a workflow that works for them and fits in with their day-to-day lives.”
An agile research infrasrtucture
There are a number of different research bodies in the United Kingdom, including the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) and UK Research and Innovation (UKRI). This can sometimes overcomplicate the process of obtaining funding for clinical trials amongst other things.
Chris Butler, Professor of Primary Care at The University of Oxford, received £1.7m of funding for the first clinical trial of potential Covid treatments back in April 2020. On the process to receive that funding, he said:
“The NIHR and NHS really stepped up to the plate. There were several peer-reviewed funding options available to us from the NIHR which weren’t bound by the usual time constraints. We could apply quickly, have short turnaround times and skip the usual five years of back and forth before finally getting the grant.
“There was early interaction between researchers, funders and the Health Research Authority (HRA), so once we had an indication that the funding was going to be approved we had the opportunity to talk to the regulators to iron everything out before we submitted our final proposal. This ensured that there was none of that back and forth after submission.
“This access to regulators from early on in the process really did speed things up. Of course, the fact there was an urgent public health status badge was critical but I think if we can replicate this type of process going forward then it’s going to benefit everybody.”
Nicole Mather was less positive about the current processes. She said:
“The NIHR and UKRI need to be more aligned because in my experience there is a diversity in the approaches of both bodies. As NIHR goes forward under new leadership there is a significant opportunity to ensure that we do things better.”
Clinical research has been at the forefront of all of our minds for the past two years. It’s important to remember that besides Covid, there are other treatments and trials that need funding going forward. The insight from all panellists was fascinating, leaving us to firmly believe that clinical research will continue to develop and improve in the coming years.