Published: 31 March 2021

By: Dr Catriona Manville, Head of Policy and Tom Baggaley, Policy Officer, AMRC

This time last year, as the pandemic swept through the UK, AMRC charities were forced to make the difficult decision to stop, pause or delay 73% of the clinical trials and studies they fund.  Simultaneously they pivoted resources to support in the national effort against the virus, including the secondment of clinical research staff to the NHS frontline, and teams delivering COVID-19 research.

Restarting clinical research 

Not only are clinical trials vital to the development of new treatments and an improved understanding of disease, but for many patients, they are a crucial lifeline. With this in mind, the AMRC has been working closely with the Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC), the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR), the NHS, regulators, industry, and other key stakeholders who support clinical research delivery across the UK. Last year we helped launch the framework to restart clinical research and co-chaired the NIHR Restart Advisory Group, which provides advice, support and guidance to the restart programme and our work has continued since then.

Thanks to the restart programme, the percentage of stopped, paused or delayed clinical trials and studies funded by AMRC charities dropped to 25% (totalling 379 clinical trials and studies) by the end of February this year. This progress is welcome, but there is still much that needs to be done to further support the recovery of charity-funded clinical research, and build back a stronger, more resilient system delivery research in a clinical setting in the UK.

Government’s vision for clinical research delivery

The 'Future of UK Clinical Research Delivery', launched last week, developed in collaboration with a cohort of stakeholders including the AMRC, will help drive changes that will benefit medical research charities and their patient communities. 

The AMRC feel the new vision is a welcome and important step in the right direction for clinical research in the UK. It aims to better support the needs of charities and industry, ultimately benefitting the NHS and the UK population. By building a better, more patient-centred system for the future, and helping to manage the recovery process we can ensure that the UK's ability to deliver research beyond COVID-19 is both restored and enhanced.  

One key learning from the UK’s response to the pandemic was the critical importance of integration between care and research, which allowed for rapid discovery in the field. This further highlights the need to further embed research into healthcare, which the vision strives for, so that the benefits that we have seen throughout the pandemic become the standard within the UK.

An unparalleled opportunity

Right now, the UK has an unparalleled opportunity to take a system-wide approach, working in partnership, to create a better research system and continue to position the UK as a world-leader in clinical trials and studies that meet the needs of patients, support the NHS, and boost the UK economy. However, it is clear that the implementation of the actions within this vision will require increased levels of funding across the research ecosystem to grow, adapt and improve the UK's clinical research system. Without this, there will not be the capacity or capability to deliver the changes that would have the greatest impact on patient outcomes.

We welcome the vision, and the central role that Patient and Public Involvement and Engagement plays throughout the vision, and hope that together we can build on this to make the UK the best place to conduct patient centred research. The commitment to ensure that publicly funded research models meet the highest standards of public, patient and service user involvement in research design and delivery is an important step in the right direction. Our hope is that this piece of work can truly make clinical research much more patient focussed throughout the pathway, with a focus on diversity and inclusiveness, increasing participation and ensuring that every patient has the opportunity to take part and engage with research.