The NIHR has today (12 November) launched five new National Patient Recruitment Centres (NPRCs) to enable more late phase commercial clinical research to be delivered within the NHS and make it easier for people to take part in studies.
Located at NHS hospital sites across England, the five regionally based NPRCs are funded through a £7m investment as part of the Government's Life Sciences Industrial Strategy and Sector Deal 2 - a series of measures to strengthen the UK environment for clinical research.
The NPRCs are managed by and funded through the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR), and run locally by NHS trusts. They are the first NIHR-funded research infrastructure wholly dedicated to delivering commercial research.
The new research centres are designed to make it quicker and easier for life science companies to deliver late-phase clinical research at scale and pace through the NHS. In turn, they will increase the number of commercial studies that can be delivered within the UK - benefiting patients who will gain earlier access to innovative new treatments and diagnostics, as well as the NHS and wider economy by attracting additional investment from the global life science industry.
To optimise the speed and consistency which commercial studies can be delivered through the NHS, each centre is equipped with purpose-designed facilities, clinical expertise and ready access to NHS support services including pharmacy, radiology, and pathology. These dedicated resources - together with a collaborative operating model focused on close partnership working with local hospitals and primary and community health providers across each region - will enable expedited set up and delivery of late phase commercial studies at a rate and scale not previously achievable within the NHS.
Innovation minister Lord Bethell said:
"More patients will be able to access cutting edge treatment and diagnostics, so they can lead happier, healthier lives, by increasing commercial studies in the UK and enabling a wider range of participants to take part in clinical research.
"These centres will go a long way in providing vital evidence to help us move towards a more nuanced understanding of COVID-19 risk and how it impacts different members of the population, including through high profile vaccine studies. The centres will go on to improve treatments and diagnostics in a range of common chronic health conditions."
NPRCs: A new approach to commercial research delivery
The new centres are spread across England with a wide geographical catchment area to increase opportunities and make it easier for people in regions across the country to take part in studies and potentially benefit from innovation through clinical research.
The NPRCs specialise in recruiting non-hospitalised patients with common chronic health conditions - such as asthma, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease - conditions commonly managed by primary and community health services. Through the use of innovative recruitment strategies, alongside close collaboration with local and regional primary and community care providers, the centres will extend the reach of recruitment beyond hospitals and specialist clinics - enabling a wider cohort of participants and patients to take part in and benefit from late-phase research.
The centres will also play a pivotal role in delivering and helping people take part in vital commercial Covid-19 vaccine studies. The Novavax Phase 3 Covid-19 vaccine trial is already underway at three of the NPRCs - in the North West, South West, and in Yorkshire and Humber - with a significant number of participants already recruited to the study through the new research centres. Other high-profile vaccine studies are also set to be confirmed for delivery through the NPRCs over the coming months.
The five National Patient Recruitment Centres, which are now operational and recruiting participants to studies, are based within the following NHS trusts:
- PRC: Blackpool - Blackpool Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust
- PRC: Bradford - Bradford Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust
- PRC: Exeter - Royal Devon and Exeter NHS Foundation Trust
- PRC: Newcastle - The Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust
- PRC: Leicester - University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust
The NPRCs operate through a franchise-like model - an evolution in the way commercial research is delivered through the NHS. All five centres provide a uniform approach to research delivery which enable companies to benefit from the same level of dedicated facilities and staff at each location - resulting in quicker, easier, more consistent delivery of studies. To further increase the speed and efficiency by which studies can be set up, costed and contracted for delivery within the NHS, all five NPRCs also adhere to the new national contract value review process which uses standardised costing and contracting processes and uniquely, operate a single costing model which requires just one costing negotiation for all five centres, with minimal local variation.
Dr William van't Hoff, Chief Executive of the NIHR Clinical Research Network said:
"The new National Patient Recruitment Centres will significantly increase our capacity and capability to support the delivery of late-phase commercial research through the NHS. By offering a streamlined, consistent and collaborative approach to study set-up and delivery, the centres will also make it quicker and easier for the life science industry to bring late phase studies to the UK and run these at pace and scale across our NHS.
"Most important of all, the centres will play a key role in helping people across the length and breadth of the country to take part in and benefit from innovative treatments through late phase commercial research - including the latest Covid-19 vaccines. With Covid-19 infections rising significantly across the UK, coinciding with an increasing number of vaccines ready to move into late phase trials, the launch of these new research centres will prove a timely and valuable asset in our urgent research response to the pandemic."
Innovative recruitment strategies to improve research delivery:
The NPRCs use innovative and proactive recruitment strategies to reach out into the local community and empower patients to take part in research. An example of innovation within this area is already underway at the Patient Recruitment Centre in Newcastle, which is running one of the UK's first virtual interventional commercial clinical trials - utilising digital technology to enable participants to take part in studies remotely, from the comfort of their own homes, rather than by routinely attending clinical settings.
The RELIEVE IBS-D study is testing a new treatment for IBS with diarrhoea (IBS-D) and members of the public have been invited to take part in the study through the PRC via a consent for contact registry and digital media campaign.
The PRC: Newcastle team registered their first patient just three days after launching the virtual study, with 81 participants consented from the site after only seven weeks - roughly twice the rate achieved by 28 UK sites using traditional face-to-face processes. This demonstrates the effectiveness of virtual trials, which allow recruitment without geographical exclusion.
Professor Yan Yiannakou, PRC: Newcastle Clinical Director, said: "We're very pleased with the progress of the RELIEVE IBS-D study. It has demonstrated that there is a real demand to deliver studies virtually and to allow people to take part from the comfort of their own home.
"As we recruit more participants to the study, we can learn from the systems we have in place for future virtual studies at the PRC, which can help us to reach a wider community more effectively."