Date: 02 July 2019
A retired lecturer whose eczema cleared up after he took part in a drug trial has welcomed a major increase in the number of NHS research participants in Oxfordshire.
Nick Dobson, 71, suffered with the condition for more than 30 years before taking part in a research trial of a new drug which has since been approved for routine use in the NHS.
The Oxford resident welcomed the news that there were more than 38,000 participants in studies supported by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) in Oxfordshire in 2018/19, the highest number on record.
More than 32,000 were recruited by Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, which was ranked second in England for hospital trusts for the number of participants and research studies.
Mr Dobson said: “I’ve always volunteered for studies and it’s never occurred to me as something not to do. As this study was into something that affected me personally, if it worked, why wouldn’t I take part?”
Eczema is a condition that causes skin to become itchy, red, dry and cracked. Scratching the itchy skin can disrupt sleep and cause bleeding, inflammation and infections.
Mr Dobson, a former economics lecturer at the University of St Andrews in Scotland, said: “My eczema got progressively worse even though I was taking all of the creams and ointments, which are normally prescribed.
“One of the things I remember, especially when it was on my face, was that I felt as though things were crawling under my skin. Other times it started behind the joints and knees and I just wanted to keep scratching for relief, despite the doctor telling me not to do that as it would only make it worse.
“I wouldn’t say it was painful, even though sometimes I’d draw blood, but it was terribly irritating. I didn’t let it stop me sleeping or getting around and travelling and exploring.”
Mr Dobson volunteered for a study into whether injectable drug dupilumab can be used to treat eczema after hearing about it from his consultant at Oxford’s Churchill Hospital in 2016. Dupilumab works by blocking a protein which causes inflammation of the skin in people with eczema.
Participants on the NIHR-supported study - funded by Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, Inc. - were split into three groups and randomly allocated dupilumab or a placebo (dummy drug) for three months to compare the two.
The first group received a weekly dupilumab injection, the second received the drug every two weeks and the third received a placebo. Neither the researchers nor participants were told which they would receive, to prevent bias.
Mr Dobson, who was later told he was in the second group, said: “The eczema was quite serious for me and my consultant recognised that it was, so he referred me to the research team for this study and without giving it too much thought I just said ‘yes’. Generally one has a social conscience and living in this university world you realise that research is fundamental, so I don’t like to say no.
“It turned out I only got the half dose and still I saw an almost instant improvement. It feels fantastic to not have eczema now and to do the trial has been a joy. The researchers have been very supportive and I’ve enjoyed the experience. The relief of not having to scratch and apply ointment was huge.”
Mr Dobson has continued taking dupilumab since completing the study, which closed in 2016. It was recommended by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) for use in the NHS in August 2018.
Figures released today show an increase in participants in NIHR-backed research in 2018/19 in Oxfordshire. Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust recruited 32,285 participants to 534 NIHR-supported studies, compared to 20,937 to 517 studies the previous year.
The trust also provides services at Oxford’s John Radcliffe Hospital, Churchill Hospital and Nuffield Orthopaedic Centre and Banbury’s Horton General Hospital.
The figures also show that 5,921 participants took part in 58 research studies in Oxfordshire’s community settings such as GP practices - more than any other NHS Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) area in England - compared to 3,602 participants in 51 studies the previous year.
Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust recruited 2,891 participants to 61 studies, compared to 2,242 participants to 60 studies the previous year. The trust provides physical, mental health and social care in Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Wiltshire, Bath and North East Somerset. It was ranked fourth among mental health trusts for the number of participants and studies.
Professor Meghana Pandit, Chief Medical Officer at Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, said: "We're delighted to hear that there were more than 30,000 participants in research at our trust in the past year. Our research covers a wide range of medical specialities and health conditions, which has helped ensure that so many Oxfordshire residents have been given the opportunity to take part."
Professor Keith Channon, Director of Research and Development at Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, said: “Clinical research is woven into the fabric of Oxford University Hospitals and as a result of the close partnership between the trust and the University of Oxford, we are recognised as being at the forefront of world-class research that benefits the NHS and its patients. The support that we receive from the NIHR is crucial to this. The fact that the number of participants in research at our hospitals continues to increase is a fantastic achievement that reflects the importance we place on research.”
Bill Wells, Head of Research and Development at Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust, said: “Oxford Health’s 2018/19 activity showed a positive change in participant recruitment with almost 30 percent more people being offered the opportunity to be involved in research than in 2017/18.“
Prof Belinda Lennox, Clinical Director for the NIHR Clinical Research Network Thames Valley and South Midlands, said: “We have had another fantastic year delivering research across our region. The hard work of the research nurses, consultants and other healthcare professionals we support has led to the number of participants in clinical research increasing in Oxfordshire to more than 38,000. That is people from right across the region, in hospitals, community settings and GP practices.
“With more people taking part in research, we can make advances in medical research more rapidly than ever before, developing new treatments for the most serious, life threatening illnesses, and improving the care that our NHS can provide as a result.”
Patients are encouraged to ask their doctor about research opportunities and search for studies seeking volunteers at www.bepartofresearch.uk.