637,379 participants from across the UK have now taken part in public health research into the effects of, and treatment for, COVID-19 in just over 8 months.
The UK is on the front foot of its commitment to understand how this virus spreads, and find treatments and vaccines, with the total number of British people involved in COVID-19 urgent public health research soaring from 100,000 in June to over half a million today.
Recruiting participants at unprecedented pace and scale has led to the development of life-saving treatments for COVID-19 hospitalised patients, including the recently announced findings that arthritis drug tocilizumab can be effective in treating the sickest COVID-19 patients.
The vast number of participants has meant some of the world’s most promising vaccine candidates are being developed through UK-based studies, and has enabled initial results around vaccine effectiveness to be published at an unparalleled pace. It is due to rigorous clinical trials such as these that the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) has been able to authorise Pfizer/BioNTech’s vaccine for use in the UK, making the UK the first country in the western world to authorise a COVID-19 vaccine.
Three large-scale vaccine studies have been rolled out in the UK over recent months, while other promising new vaccines will be confirmed soon for delivery. Tens of thousands of people have already taken part in vaccine trials across the UK through these phase 3 trials.
Health Secretary, Matt Hancock said:
The dramatic rise in enrolment over recent months is testament to the world-leading research infrastructure in the UK, as well as the willingness of people to participate in vital COVID-19 studies. Dedicated hard work from the National Institute for Health Research, the NHS and the devolved nations has ensured as many UK patients as possible benefit from the latest innovations in science and medicine.
Since March, 73 urgent public health studies into COVID-19 have been set up to investigate a range of potential treatments, vaccines and observational studies to learn more about the disease, as well as research into new diagnostic technology. NHS hospitals have played a vital role in delivering studies at pace and scale, enabling hospitalised patients to benefit from the latest COVID-19 treatments, in addition to helping tens of thousands of people gain early access to vaccine candidates through trials running across the country.
Chief Medical Officer for England and co-lead of the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR), Professor Chris Whitty said:
Dr William van’t Hoff, Chief Executive of the NIHR Clinical Research Network, which has managed these studies for the Department of Health and Social Care, said:
Advancing the science around how the virus spreads across the population is vital to tackling the pandemic. Findings from observational studies, such as the ONS COVID-19 Infection Survey, provide important metrics on where infection rates are rising across the country and are shared with public health authorities and the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) in real time to inform policy and decision-making at the highest level.
Ensuring rapid, accurate and effective testing is widely available across the population is another key element in controlling the spread of the virus. Accurate diagnosis of infection, identification of immunity and monitoring the clinical progression of infection is of paramount importance. The government is ensuring key research within this area through the COVID-19 National DiagnOstic Research and Evaluation Platform (CONDOR). There is a range of diagnostic and observational studies currently underway through this platform, which will pave the way to the development of advanced new testing technologies.
Sir Simon Stevens, Chief Executive of the NHS, said:
Today’s milestone shows the remarkable national effort to tackle the pandemic. The Government say it is vital we maintain this speed of recruitment and the high uptake of participants to COVID-19 research to ensure ongoing and future studies are sufficiently powered to establish the very best vaccines that will work for as many people as possible, and “to ensure we continue to find treatments for COVID-19 as quickly as possible.”