Published: 12 June 2020
Over 100,000 UK participants have now enrolled in COVID-19 urgent public health research supported by the NIHR - at NHS hospitals and care settings across the United Kingdom.
Taking part in COVID-19 research is vital to enable effective treatments to be identified, evidenced and made available to NHS patients as quickly as possible.
However, despite reaching the 100,000 recruitment milestone, given the number of different potential treatments being investigated, extremely large numbers of people are needed to take part. Clinical researchers and scientists still urgently need more participants to generate the scientific evidence required to establish an effective treatment or vaccine.
Over 100,000 participants in urgent COVID-19 research
Since the onset of the pandemic, the NIHR has played a critical role in the fight against this new disease. COVID-19 studies assessed as having the most potential to deliver evidence with the greatest impact within the next 12 months are being prioritised and badged as urgent public health research. These studies are fast tracked for set-up and delivery across the NHS through the NIHR Clinical Research Network - which also helps consent and recruit patients to take part.
Since March 2020, the NIHR has prioritised a total of 48 urgent public health research studies out of more than 400 which have been assessed - with a total of 101,622 participants recruited to date.
Of these, the studies with the largest number of participants include:
- Clinical Characterisation Protocol for Severe Emerging Infection (CCP-UK):
An observational study collecting samples and data from patients which will help understand the characteristics of the virus, how it replicates, and factors affecting underlying individual susceptibility
- Pandemic Respiratory Infection Emergency System Triage (The PRIEST study):
The PRIEST study will optimise the triage of patients using emergency care with suspected respiratory infections and identify the most accurate triage method for predicting severe illness.
- A Randomised Trial of COVID-19 Therapy (RECOVERY trial):
Researchers are assessing whether a number of potential therapeutic treatments can improve health outcomes for patients hospitalised with suspected or confirmed COVID-19.
- Investigating a vaccine against COVID-19 (COV002)
COV002 is a phase 2 clinical trial investigating ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 - a vaccine candidate based on an adenovirus vaccine vector and the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein.
- Genetics of susceptibility and mortality in critical care (GenOMICC):
The GenOMICC study will identify the specific genes that cause some people to be susceptible to specific infections and consequences of severe injury.
The latest recruitment data refers to the number of participants across all NIHR-supported urgent public health research into COVID-19.
It is important to note that patients can take part in more than one study (“co-enrol”) - for example in observational and interventional trials simultaneously - therefore the total number of participants does not equate to the same number of individual patients involved in studies. To ensure patient confidentiality, the NIHR does not keep data on individual numbers of patients.
Prof Nick Lemoine, Chair of the NIHR’s Urgent Public Health Group and Medical Director NIHR Clinical Research Network said:
“100,000 participants to COVID-19 research in just over two months is a remarkable achievement. I am incredibly grateful and would like to send a heartfelt thank you to everyone taking part in this vital research. I would also like to thank the NHS staff, scientists and researchers for their incredible hard work delivering this research at such speed. It’s testament to the collaboration and national focus for clinical research across UK health organisations. With increasing numbers of treatments, vaccines and other areas under investigation as part of our prioritised urgent public health research, there are still opportunities to get involved and help the NHS and the whole world to tackle COVID”.
Lord Bethell, Minister for Innovation at the Department for Health and Social Care said:
“We have learnt that trials like these are key to the battle against Covid-19, so I am thrilled that we have achieved this and the milestone is proof the UK is leading the way in the race to find effective treatments.
“I would like to thank every single person who has volunteered to take part in this vital research so we can get trials started and get drugs to patients as soon as possible.”
A wide range of urgent studies supported
The NIHR’s portfolio of urgent public health research into COVID-19 includes a range of interventional studies assessing potential therapeutics for patients with the disease; trials assessing potential vaccines and prophylactics to reduce further transmission; and observational studies which will enable a better understanding of the behavior and characteristics of the disease - including how it spreads.
Aside from the highest recruiting studies, NIHR is also supporting many other urgent public health studies into COVID-19 - which by their nature involve lower recruitment numbers - but which hold equal value in the fight against this new disease in terms of the evidence they will generate.
For example, the REMAP-CAP platform trial is investigating a number of treatment options for patients with severe community acquired pneumonia due to coronavirus - a severe and life threatening condition affecting a lower proportion of patients with COVID-19, thereby affecting the ease by which participants can be recruited.
More participants needed
With the number of confirmed coronavirus infections beginning to drop in the UK, there is an even greater need for people testing positive with COVID-19 to sign up for research. Without enough participants for each of the COVID-19 trials, it will not be possible to produce the necessary evidence about which treatments are effective, or the best option for different patients. This could have serious implications in the event of a second wave later in the year.
Prof Nick Lemoine said: “Despite a remarkable 100,000 participants volunteering to help our fight against COVID-19 through taking part in health research, we still need more people to take part. This includes people who receive a positive test for COVID-19 to take part in a whole range of new treatment trials, while we also hope that soon many thousands of people who have not had COVID will have the opportunity to volunteer in key vaccine trials.
“It is vital that despite falling infection rates in the UK, we are able to maintain and even up the pace of recruitment, so that the research teams are able to establish the best way to treat and care for patients as soon as possible. It is therefore also incredibly important that everyone who is diagnosed with COVID-19 and is offered the chance to take part in a trial, takes up that opportunity wherever possible. This is important not only for the potential health benefits that the trial drugs and treatment being assessed may bring to patients’ own recovery - but crucially, to advance the healthcare science so that one day soon we have the evidence base to enable an effective treatment or vaccine to be made widely available to all patients, not just across the NHS - but around the world.”
RECOVERY from COVID-19: A patient participant's story
A man who beat coronavirus and was among the first patients to enrol in COVID-19 clinical trials has spoken of how he wanted to “step up” to help with research into treatments for the disease.
Graeme Brammall, from Cromer in Norfolk, was hospitalised for nine days at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital at the end of March after contracting the virus and required high dependency care. During his treatment, the 57-year-old was among the first patients to be enrolled onto the RECOVERY trial which is jointly funded by the NIHR.
Every hospitalised COVID-19 patient in the UK may be invited to participate in this key trial - which is investigating whether a number of potential drug treatments can improve health outcomes for patients with confirmed or suspected COVID-19.
The father-of-six, who is a pest technician, began feeling ill at home in March. After calling 111 and a visit from a paramedic, he was taken to hospital where he learnt he had coronavirus. Upon arrival he was taken to the high dependency ward, to receive oxygen to help him breath.
Mr Brammall said: “I was really, really sore, I was drifting in and out of this world. All I wanted to do was sleep all the time, I had no energy. It is the most frightened I have been in my life. My chest was shaking from the inside out.”
The grandfather-of-three instantly said yes to take part in the RECOVERY trial, as he wanted to help others and was concerned he would not survive.
Mr Brammall said: “At the end of the day if you can help somebody in life and help save lives, you would. How are they going to find a cure? People have to step up to the mark or we are going to be in the dark ages and not move forward.”
When he was moved off the ward, he received cheers from the team as he became one of the first patients to recover after high dependency treatment. Since returning home, Graeme says he has begun to feel like himself and has kept busy by clearing out the house and looking forward to his newly finished “mancave”.