Boosting commercial research in primary care


Just over 40 per cent of general practices in England are now actively involved in clinical research. Whilst this is fantastic news we must continue to engage primary care organisations in research, particularly commercial research, to ensure we continue to give patients access to cutting edge treatments. Insight Magazine explores how the Clinical Research Network is working with general practices to bring more commercial research to the UK.


A key focus for the Clinical Research Network is to increase opportunities for partnerships and collaborative research with the life-sciences industry. Working with industry has many benefits, it attracts investment, it drives growth, but ultimately, it results in new treatments and medical technologies for patients.

Dr Evans

A good proportion of general practices in England are engaged in research but a smaller percentage support commercial research. The Network is working with general practices to change this. Dr Philip Evans is the Network’s Primary Care National Specialty Lead, he says the challenge is to break down the barriers for general practices:

“I think it’s important to say that not all general practices would have the capacity to support commercial research. It is quite a commitment and there are a number of practicalities to consider; would they need to employ new staff, what training would they need, what equipment is required? It’s often both a cultural and managerial shift within the practice which takes time to implement

However, practices are continually coming forward and want to get involved and we need to maximise this interest and really help these practices to prepare. We have existing training and collaborative working models in place that can be shared with the practices to boost confidence and encourage joined up working with other practices and hospitals.

“Also, we need to look at primary care in its broadest sense and look outside general practice; we are continually looking for opportunities to engage with pharmacies, dentists and federations in commercial research.”

A federation is a group of practices and primary care teams working together, sharing responsibility for developing and delivering high quality, patient focussed services for their local communities.

The Network must build relationships with the life-sciences industry too in order to plan ahead as Dr Evans goes on to explain:

“The key with the life-sciences industry is to engage as early as possible to find out what’s in the pipeline. We need to look at the prevalence of conditions in primary care and where in England they are concentrated. That way we can try to match the right studies to the right practices.”

One of the models mentioned by Dr Evans is Research Ready®, developed by the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) and the Clinical Research Network to support practices to carry out high quality research. This quality framework helps practices to develop a research culture and ethos. Dr Matt Hoghton is Medical Director for the RCGP Clinical Innovation and Research Centre (CIRC), he explains:

QUOTE philevans

“Since 2006 the RCGP Research Ready programme has been supporting GPs and their practices in developing their confidence and expertise in performing industry-sponsored research. The companies and their supporting contract research organisations appreciate the quality standards that RCGP Research Ready practices offer, and their ability to recruit to target from the UK community rather than from potentially biased secondary care clinics.”

Local initiatives are underway across England to support the delivery of commercial research in primary care. The Clinical Research Network East Midlands has seen a marked increase in the percentage of primary care commercial contract studies recruiting to time and target from 25 per cent in 2014/15 to 89 per cent in 2015/16. Dan Kumar is Industry Delivery Manager for CRN East Midlands, he explains how the local Network has achieved this dramatic improvement:

“We worked collaboratively with practices to develop a strategy. In the short term, working to address the lack of engagement in commercial research in some parts of the primary care community and in the long term, working with practices across the region to release the potential for working on commercial studies.”

To support the education of the wider research community on the benefits of commercial research in primary care the Industry Team lead a series of workshops which detailed the tools that have been developed to support commercial contract studies. The workshops were also supported by a series of teleconferences to help embed the new processes for delivering existing studies as well as those in set up. Mr Kumar goes on to explain:

“An essential part of the set-up process for commercial studies is agreeing the costs and contract for a study, which can be daunting for practices who are new to commercial research. The workshops that were held to address this were well attended and provided a good opportunity for people to learn the basic principles and strategies involved, whilst developing a link to the expertise available within the Network.

“The team has also worked closely with practices new to commercial research to help them get a foot in the door, for example, helping them to develop information packs to attract commercial studies.”

Mr Kumar has seen a big increase in the number of new practices being considered and accepted to conduct new commercial studies, he said:

“PREDICT is a commercial study currently open in East Midlands [Local Research Network area]. Out of the 14 practices selected for the study, this is the first commercial study for five of them and four of these are in Lincolnshire, a region which previously had few research active practices involved in commercial research.

“This is great news for patients in Lincolnshire who are now being given access to research opportunities involving new and innovative therapies.”