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UK clinical research network restructures as trial numbers climb

By Zachary Brennan , 09-Apr-2014

The National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Clinical Research Network, which provides more than £284m ($475m) a year to support the delivery of clinical research studies, has reconfigured to become 15 local clinical research networks across England. 

Until April 1, the network was made up of 102 overlapping local regional groups, each supporting clinical research studies in different therapy areas or parts of the service.

The new structure will help to support the network of trials, which last year amounted to more than 4,200 clinical research studies, including studies sponsored by major charities and pharma companies.

The network provided funds to hospitals and doctors’ surgeries to invest in clinical research nurses to match patients with appropriate research opportunities, carry out the clinical duties required by the studies, and cover research-related costs such as x-rays and scans.

Through the work of the network, more than 630,000 NHS (National Health Service) patients took part in clinical research studies in 2012/13. In addition, the number of commercial contract studies grew by 17% compared with the previous year. The network expects to continue this upward trend when it publishes its latest figures in a few months’ time.

The geographical boundaries of the new networks correlate with those of the Academic Health Science Networks.

Jonathan Sheffield, chief executive of the NIHR Clinical Research Network, said: “Over the last year we have seen significant changes in both the NHS environment, and in the nature of research studies. It was important for the Network to evolve, so we can continue to provide the flexible infrastructure the research community needs to conduct clinical studies efficiently in the NHS.”

As part of the restructuring process, the network has appointed new Chief Operating Officers and Clinical Directors for each of the 15 local branches. Here’s a list of local Network leaders .

Sheffield added, “With our new local leadership teams now in place, we are confident we can take clinical research delivery in the NHS on to the next level.

Single Assessment

Meanwhile, Sheffield has welcomed a recent announcement from Earl Howe regarding funding for the Health Research Authority’s (HRA) business plan for a single assessment and approval for studies conducted in England.

The funding means that the HRA will be able to pursue further reductions in bureaucracy to set up clinical studies in the NHS (National Health Service). The NIHR Clinical Research Network is also working to reduce the number of days it takes to obtain NHS permission to conduct a study across all sites, which has improved five-fold in two years, the network claims.

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