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200,000 participants take part in the UK’s world leading Covid-19 research

Published: 01 October 2020

Over 200,000 participants from across the UK have now taken part in NIHR-supported urgent public health research into Covid-19 - just six months after the first studies opened for recruitment.

Taking part in clinical research is critical to the development of drugs and treatments to address the global health and economic crisis caused by Covid-19 - which is already responsible for more than a million deaths worldwide.

The NIHR and its Clinical Research Network (CRN) have played a crucial role in reaching this significant recruitment milestone, which cements the UK’s position at the forefront of global efforts in the fight against this highly infectious respiratory disease.

The portfolio of urgent public health research supported by the NIHR includes an array of interventional studies investigating potential Covid-19 treatments. These include new and existing drugs, being assessed in both hospital and community settings.

Studies such as RECOVERY and REMAP-CAP have already published practice changing evidence on corticosteroids - within months of opening - a feat which would not have been possible without the fast-tracked research delivery support, expertise and infrastructure of the NIHR. Equally important to the success of these interventional studies has been the tremendous engagement of NHS trusts and staff right across the country. Studies such as RECOVERY have been specifically designed to fit easily into clinical practice, demonstrating how best research can be integrated into best care. As a result, RECOVERY is not only the fastest ever recruiting randomised controlled trial - with 10,000 participants recruited in the first two months - but also the world’s largest trial into Covid-19 treatments.

An increasing number of high profile, cutting edge trials investigating potential vaccines and prophylactics are also being supported by the NIHR - including some of the world’s first phase 3 Covid-19 vaccine trials. To expedite recruitment to these vital studies which require very large numbers of participants, in close partnership with the NHS, the NIHR recently helped launch the NHS Covid-19 vaccine research registry - a new service to enable people to sign up to be contacted about vaccine research. Over the coming months and amidst the expected second wave, the registry will help many more thousands of people across the UK access and benefit from this cutting-edge research into a number of promising Covid-19 vaccine candidates.

The NIHR is also supporting a number of important observational studies, collecting data to answer some of the most important questions about Covid-19. These include studies around how the disease spreads and affects different subsets of the population, for example different age, gender, socioeconomic and ethnic groups. This research will ultimately enable a better understanding of the behavior and characteristics of the disease, with evidence used to inform NHS and public health decision making. These include:

  • studies evaluating rapid diagnostic tests in primary and secondary health settings
  • research to help understand and improve long-term health outcomes amongst Covid-19 patients
  • seroprevalence studies assessing infection rate and transmission of Covid-19 amongst school children and young people in the community
  • research looking at how and why ethnicity affects Covid-19 diagnosis and clinical outcomes in healthcare workers.

Since the UK launched its urgent public health research response to the pandemic in March 2020, a total of 60 Covid-19 studies have been established and prioritised for set-up and recruitment right across the United Kingdom. With NIHR support, in collaboration with research partners from the devolved nations, a total of 46 of these studies have already successfully recruited participants.

As of 1 October 2020, the top five highest recruiting urgent public health studies are:

Dr William van't Hoff, Chief Executive of the NIHR Clinical Research Network said:

“I am incredibly grateful and would like to say a heartfelt thank you to every single one of the 200,000 participants who have taken part in this vital research so far - which is already saving lives and making a real difference in the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic. These participants include patients and members of the public from every corner of the UK, many of whom were in their darkest hour - often critically ill in hospital.

“I am particularly proud of the ability to offer vital research across the whole country, wherever people live, to support recruitment at real pace so that results and critical evidence on treatments can be utilised just six months after the first studies opened. The phenomenal pace in which this milestone has been reached is testament to the hard work, dedication and expertise of colleagues right across the NIHR, matched by the huge support from health and care staff in the NHS.

“As a direct result of our collective efforts, alongside the scientists and researchers who design the studies, and crucially all of the participants who have selflessly taken part - we have already produced life-saving evidence that has given the world the first proven treatments against Covid-19.”

Brendon Fay, a participant who benefited from taking part in NIHR-supported urgent public health study, said:

“I had Covid-19 in April and was in intensive care. My family agreed for me to become a participant in the REMAP-CAP study in Northern Ireland. I was randomised and included in a group who received hydrocortisone, which we now know is life-saving for people in my situation. Having participated in health research, I would strongly encourage other people and their families to sign-up and become involved in research. Participating in health research is an opportunity to help our medical folk learn and also an opportunity to help others with illness. I firmly believe I benefited and I’m in a far better place thanks to research.”

Further information

It is important to note that patients can take part in more than one study - 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.

Find out more about the NIHR’s nationally prioritised urgent Covid-19 studies.

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