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Case study: Dorset Research Hub paves the way for future research

The newly-established Dorset Research Hub, located at the Royal Bournemouth Hospital and part of University Hospitals Dorset NHS Foundation Trust (UHD), has been at the centre of county-based COVID-19 trials. Its rapid success has ensured that it has become a vital part of the response to coronavirus but has also opened the doors for the Hub to become an essential part of clinical research well into the future. We spoke to Patrick, Rebecca and Nicki who shared their experiences of establishing the Hub and what it has meant to them.

An interview with:

  • Dr Patrick Moore – GP at The Adam Practice, Medical Lead at Dorset Research Hub and Associate Director for CRN Wessex
  • Rebecca Cutts – Lead Research Nurse at The Adam Practice, Lead Unblinded Research Nurse at Dorset Research Hub
  • Nicki Lakeman – Senior Cardiac Nurse at Royal Bournemouth Hospital, Lead Blinded Research Nurse at Dorset Research Hub

Patrick: In September 2020 we needed to help support the vaccine trials in Southampton. We had experience running vaccine trials at The Adam Practice and Rebecca and I were keen to establish a research hub to conduct more clinical trials here in Dorset.

Our colleague Laura Purandare, Head of Research at UHD, and I were asked to take on the set-up of a hub and our most immediate issue was finding somewhere to host it. We looked at different sites and Laura identified the former Sexual Health Clinic at Royal Bournemouth Hospital as a potential. Within a few weeks, we were in and starting to set up the Hub.

Nicki: Before September, I hadn’t met Rebecca! I was seconded from Royal Bournemouth Hospital to take on the role of Lead Blinded Research Nurse at the Dorset Research Hub and it was a bit of a whirlwind. We got access to the new building on the 3rd October and had to be ready for our first participant on the 7th. We had to coordinate getting clinical and admin staff rapidly, along with preparing the space to set up the Hub.

Locally, we are now in the position to really shape research which will benefit everyone.

Rebecca: With NIHR and University Hospital Southampton (UHS) support, we were given some staff who were reallocated from elsewhere but we had to recruit very quickly so we also asked for people to come forward to help run the Hub. We had over 500 expressions of interest from retired medical, administration and clinical professionals which was amazing.

But calling them and recruiting from the pool also fell to us. Between us we were working 14 hour days and weekends to help us get the Hub up and running. Our colleague Laura was calling potential participants for our first vaccine trial, Novavax, to book them in for vaccination. Laura put in a massive amount of time to get the participants booked in, calling up to 9pm on most evenings and weekends.

Patrick: Our first trial was the Novavax trial – it was the largest and fastest recruiting phase 3 trial that’s ever happened in the UK so it was quite an achievement. We had almost 600 people take part in seven weeks and, in a way, we were a victim of our success because once we showed what we could achieve, we then had lots of other trials lining up to be based out of the Dorset Research Hub.

We have hosted AstraZeneca's PROVENT and STORM CHASER trials, looking at the effectiveness of monoclonal antibody treatment in vulnerable adults. We’ve also hosted the Medicago trial, exploring the safety and effectiveness of another COVID-19 vaccine candidate.

More recently, we have supported the COV-BOOST trial, which is sponsored by UHS and looking at seven different COVID-19 vaccines when given as a third ‘booster’ dose. We are also supporting research to help tackle new variants and have recently recruited participants to a trial exploring how well an Oxford/AstraZeneca variant vaccine protects against the Beta COVID-19 variant. We are now supporting the Omicron variant vaccine research.

What we’ve achieved in the last year is huge. The workforce coming out of retirement to help and the people giving it everything they have, has been a testament to us all.

Nicki: We went from a situation where recruiting to clinical trials pre-COVID was difficult, to then having too many people volunteering to take part in the vaccine trials. It’s fantastic to see, but the challenge for us is having the staff to contact enough people. Consistency is hard to achieve with a lot of the trials because people are isolating, staff and participants, and we have to react quickly if participants get symptoms – we have to think on our feet to solve so many issues.

Rebecca: Despite the challenges, it’s been really positive to experience such rapid change and to see how quickly we are learning.

Patrick: The important thing for all of us now is to have a legacy. Working on different trials, across institutional boundaries and helping to inform a local health picture in Dorset is vital if we’re to continue to provide a place for trials after the pandemic has ended. Locally, we are now in the position to really shape research which will benefit everyone.

Rebecca: We have all gained so much in such a short space of time, that the opportunity to see it continue is important. My team at The Adam Practice have been extremely flexible, like many organisations we have worked with. The experience they have gained from this way of working is invaluable and they have gained a wealth of experience, like all that have worked with us in the Hub.

Nicki: We’ve picked up and been using so many different skills. We’ve had some staff come in with no research experience, but it hasn’t held us back. People have just thrown themselves in and really enjoyed the experience of working here and achieving what we have.

Patrick: What we’ve achieved in the last year is huge. The workforce coming out of retirement to help and the people giving it everything they have (I haven’t had a day off in 12 months) has been a testament to us all. If I think back to September 2020, we all thought we’d be done in a couple of months but a year on we’ve had well over 1,000 participants through our doors and another ¾ studies in the pipeline.

Nicki: We’ve shown that we can set up trials quickly and successfully and it’s so important that we keep that going. We know that other research areas have suffered to accommodate COVID-19 vaccine research, and we recognise that and are incredibly grateful for all the support we’ve had, so to leave a longer legacy that gives back to research is important.