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More than 16,000 Thames Valley COVID-19 study participants thanked

Shaun Rowlands 1200 x 375

Health service leaders have thanked more than 16,000 participants who took part in nationally-prioritised COVID-19 studies in Thames Valley and South Midlands.

A total 16,226 took part in 35 studies supported by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) in hospitals, care homes and community settings such as GP practices in Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Milton Keynes and Oxfordshire in 2020/21.

Today is International Clinical Trials Day, which celebrates the contribution of clinical trials to healthcare.

It comes as the NIHR's annual national Participant in Research Experience Survey (PRES) of 1,231 NHS research participants in the region found 95% who took part in research would volunteer for another study.

Among those who took part was chef Shaun Rowlands, 55, of Henley-on-Thames, who took three drugs on the RECOVERY trial into COVID-19 treatments during two months in Reading’s Royal Berkshire Hospital from April 2020.

Mr Rowlands was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma - a form of blood cancer - in May 2019. He said: “Luckily I got on with my chemotherapy and went into remission, but my immune system was still compromised when the COVID pandemic struck.

“My wife Deborah had COVID symptoms, but I showed none until about two weeks later. All of a sudden I couldn’t taste my dinner and I had a week in bed.

“At first I didn’t worry. I’ve been through cancer, I’ve been through chemotherapy. I thought ‘I’ve dealt with this, it’s not a problem’. It wasn’t until my temperature rose and I was sat by the radiator with a duvet around myself that I started to get scared. I began to panic, so we called an ambulance.

“I remember going into hospital and a few days after, but the next six to eight weeks are a complete blur.”

The father-of-two was diagnosed with COVID-19 when he was admitted to hospital and offered the trial by his doctor. He said: “The doctor came to me to ask if I wanted to take part in the trial while I was still reasonably coherent and I said ‘yes, definitely, let’s do it’. I felt very positive about doing it.

“When I had cancer, the NHS and hospital saved my life. I think I owe it to them to give something back. That’s why I wanted to take part in the trial.”

As part of the trial, Mr Rowlands was given antiviral drug lopinavir-ritonavir before he was put into a coma in the intensive care unit and put on a ventilator. He was given immunosuppressive drug tocilizumab for three days and his condition began to improve.

A total 1,412 people took part in the UK-wide University of Oxford trial in Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Milton Keynes and Oxfordshire. Researchers found steroid dexamethasone and tocilizumab can reduce deaths while convalescent plasma and drugs lopinavir-ritonavir, hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin are not effective.

He said: “Most of the time I wasn’t aware of what I was going through, but my family lived it real-time, so they were the ones who really suffered.

“When I came home, I felt scared. I was in a wheelchair. I hadn’t been able to talk for ages. I had to learn how to walk again. I couldn’t breathe properly, I couldn’t get out of bed.

“I feel really good now. I feel strong. I can run, I can work out, my lungs are clear. When I was in the ICU, my lungs were shutting down and my organs were failing. To come out of that relatively unscathed, I’m very lucky.

“I think it’s fantastic that drugs are now available to treat COVID-19 patients on the NHS. I’m proud to be part of a trial that helped find them.”

Other COVID-19 studies in Thames Valley and South Midlands include:

  • 1,500 volunteers into a University of Oxford vaccine for COVID-19, which was found to be up to 90% effective following a global trial of 23,745 people. The vaccine was approved for use in the NHS in December.
  • Collecting daily blood samples from 5,108 hospitalised COVID-19 patients to analyse the impact of the virus on the body for the Clinical Characterisation Protocol for Severe Emerging Infection study. The study helped researchers develop new software to predict the likelihood of deterioration in hospitalised adults.
  • 281 volunteers for the PRINCIPLE trial into existing treatments for patients in the community with moderate symptoms of the disease or a positive test for COVID-19. The trial found that asthma drug budesonide shorterns recovery time in patients at risk of more severe illness and ruled out two further drugs. Those with symptoms can register online at principletrial.org.

Prof Belinda Lennox, Clinical Director for the NIHR Clinical Research Network Thames Valley and South Midlands, said: “This year has demonstrated, more than ever before, the vital importance of clinical research - we have trialled treatments that have saved lives and developed new vaccines that prevent disease.

“This is only possible because of research and because of the volunteers who have given their time and altruistically taken part, not knowing whether they would benefit or not.

“Thank you to each and every person who has taken part in clinical research this year. You have done something amazing.”

The NIHR is supporting 97 nationally-prioritised COVID-19 studies in the UK that have so far involved more than one million participants. Find out more at nihr.ac.uk/covid-studies.

People can learn more about COVID-19 research in Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Milton Keynes and Oxfordshire at an online event.

The event will feature discussions with a researcher, patient and research nurse from 7pm to 8pm on Thursday 20 May. Register at tinyurl.com/tvcovid-20may