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Researchers praised for their efforts in restarting research in south London

CRN South London’s Chief Operating Officer, Dr James Lyddiard, has praised researchers for their efforts in restarting the local NIHR research portfolio.

All 12 of the Network’s NHS partners have recruited to non-COVID-19 research studies in 2020/21. During the first wave of the pandemic, recruitment to many research studies was paused. At the time of writing, a total of 605 NIHR portfolio studies led by CRN South London are now open to active recruitment.

Dr Lyddiard also thanked research support staff for their response throughout the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. He said:

“I would like to pay tribute to the research workforce in south London for going above and beyond in their response to this unprecedented situation. Our partners have achieved a huge amount in supporting Urgent Public Health research (UPH) into COVID-19 and in aligning the delivery of studies with their clinical services. We have also seen other research studies, from the rest of the portfolio, restarting over the last few months.

“We are always available to offer advice and support to our partners, and the Network will continue to champion recruitment to both COVID-19 and non-COVID-19 research.”

The NIHR’s goal is to restore a fully active portfolio of research while continuing to support important COVID-19 studies as part of the Government response to the pandemic.

At the time of writing, eleven Trauma and Emergency Care specialty studies at St George’s University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust are actively recruiting.

St George’s Hospital’s Consultant Nurse and Clinical Research Lead Professor Heather Jarman, who is also the Network’s Trauma and Emergency Care Research Specialty Lead, said:

“The Trust has been really supportive and at the highest level all research studies were assessed by a central panel which decided whether or not a study could resume recruitment, and currently all of our studies bar one are open for recruitment.

“Our work continued throughout the first wave of the pandemic. We have an embedded nursing workforce within the department who alternate between their clinical and research duties. This means that we have a consistent staffing level that is able to support UPH and non-UPH research. Technology has also been utilised to help the team with the consenting process to studies, such as through calling or video calling relatives; we are also able to ask participants to consent to some studies via an e-signature on an iPad device.

“The media coverage of the pandemic has raised the profile of research, and people are keen to help us, as they understand that we need to learn more about this virus. Our staff have been proud to play their part in helping our patients. The team is prepared for every eventuality going forward.”

The PHAGO project is devoted to the development of immunomodulatory therapies for Alzheimer’s disease.

Alzheimer’s disease is an age-related chronic neurodegenerative disease with progressive loss of nerve cells and their connectivity in the brain. Affected patients suffer from memory loss and progressive dementia.

It has been known for many years that specialised types of immune cells accumulate around amyloid plaques in patients’ brains, which is a hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease, and show a dysfunctional activation profile.

The PHAGO research project aims to fill this knowledge gap and provide tools and assays for targeting these immune receptors to pave the way for the development of drugs that delay the progression of this disease.

King’s College London’s Clinical Research Fellow Dr Oliver Cousins said new COVID-19 safety processes have reassured participants and helped with PHAGO’s successful restart. He said:

“We have made people feel secure by explaining our new COVID-19 and social distancing procedures at the trial sites. Our participants and colleagues have been really keen to resume with the study. In my opinion, having a clear plan of action and communications strategy has really helped us with restarting PHAGO.

“The biggest challenge for the project, going forward, is trying to plan around the ongoing pandemic. However, all those involved in supporting the study have been flexible and understanding, and are very keen to work with us to ensure that our research activities can continue.”

The NIHR is committed to supporting a diverse and active portfolio of research funded and supported by the NIHR - including both non-COVID-19 research and important COVID-19 research which does not meet our urgency criteria. However, we recognise that at this pressured time with constraints on staff resources due to the increase in COVID-19 cases, prioritisation may be necessary in some specialties and at some sites. In these cases, COVID vaccine and therapeutic platform studies approved by the Urgent Public Health panel will be prioritised, followed by other UPH approved studies. This is followed by research involving an urgent treatment or intervention without which patients could come to harm. These might be studies that provide access to potentially life preserving or life-extending treatment not otherwise available to the patient. Other studies, including non-UPH badged COVID-19 studies form the next priority.

You can find out more about the NIHR’s RESTART project on their website. Guidance on the impact of COVID-19 on research funded or supported by the NIHR is also available on the organisation's website.