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A Remarkable Community by Dr Thomas Burden, Respiratory Consultant

Dr Thomas Burden, Respiratory Consultant from RD&E

I'm sure it will be no surprise to learn that producing high-quality research has been challenging over the last year, where even simple everyday activities have seemed like a challenge!

However, while we have devoted enormous energy and resources towards COVID, the research community’s flexibility in tackling the pandemic has been remarkable. We have managed in the South West to contribute to ground-breaking clinical, observational and vaccine trials that have been essential in putting us all on the front foot against the disease.

This has been down to not just the dedication of our clinical research teams, but also the active involvement of the local population and cooperation with commercial partners. In my NIHR Clinical Speciality Lead role, I am particularly pleased with how we’ve taken a regional approach to vaccine research. This has enabled us to provide access to volunteers from Devon and Cornwall, and we have a strong commitment to achieve the same in Somerset.

I think it is really important for us to recognise as a research community what we have enabled and what we have achieved, by prioritising research for patients.

It was estimated earlier in the year that 22,000 lives have been saved due to the findings of the RECOVERY trial. One major treatment breakthrough in this trial, so far, has been dexamethasone. It is affordable to middle and low-income countries, meaning that achieving positive outcomes is accessible to even the populations that are hardest to reach. The vaccine data are also increasingly compelling, despite the concerns surrounding new variants of COVID-19. This offers the positive prospect of a more normal year ahead. This should be celebrated!

Personally, for next year I plan to emphasise reaching patients in two ways: by establishing non-commercial activity through the application of an NIHR-funded grant, and also, by creating the unique opportunity for the PRC to offer access to the population across the whole of the Southwest, so that they can easily take part. My first ambition is to achieve this in a population that have traditionally struggled to access research: those with alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency.

I view the PRC as a unique chance to collaborate with primary care services, to access large numbers of patients who would benefit from our research. We need to find innovative ways to embed research in our daily work, to ensure best care for our patients.