The NIHR has today (12 November) launched five new National Patient Recruitment Centres (NPRCs) to enable more late phase commercial clinical research to be delivered within the NHS and make it easier for people to take part in studies.

The Bradford centre is one of five regionally based NPRCs funded through a £7m investment as part of the Government’s Life Sciences Industrial Strategy and Sector Deal 2 – a series of measures to strengthen the UK environment for clinical research.

The centre, based at Bradford Royal Infirmary, is managed by and funded through the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR), and run locally by Bradford Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust . The centres are the first NIHR-funded research infrastructure wholly dedicated to delivering commercial research.

The new research centres are designed to make it quicker and easier for life science companies to deliver late-phase clinical research at scale and pace through the NHS. In turn, they will increase the number of commercial studies that can be delivered within the UK – benefiting patients who will gain earlier access to innovative new treatments and diagnostics, as well as the NHS and wider economy by attracting additional investment from the global life science industry.

To optimise the speed and consistency which commercial studies can be delivered through the NHS, each centre is equipped with purpose-designed facilities, clinical expertise and ready access to NHS support services including pharmacy, radiology, and pathology. These dedicated resources – together with a collaborative operating model focussed on close partnership working with local hospitals and primary and community health providers across each region – will enable expedited set up and delivery of late phase commercial studies at a rate and scale not previously achievable within the NHS.

NPRCs: A new approach to commercial research delivery

The new centres are spread across England with a wide geographical catchment area to increase opportunities and make it easier for people in regions across the country to take part in studies and potentially benefit from innovation through clinical research.

The NPRCs specialise in recruiting non-hospitalised patients with common chronic health conditions – such as asthma, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease – conditions commonly managed by primary and community health services. Through the use of innovative recruitment strategies, alongside close collaboration with local and regional primary and community care providers, the centres will extend the reach of recruitment beyond hospitals and specialist clinics – enabling a wider cohort of participants and patients to take part in and benefit from late-phase research.

The centres will also play a pivotal role in delivering and helping people take part in vital Covid-19 vaccine studies – the Novavax Phase 3 Covid-19 vaccine trial is already underway at Patient Recruitment Centre: Bradford – and other high-profile vaccine studies are set to be confirmed for delivery through the NPRCs over the coming months.

The Novavax study is a randomised, placebo-controlled, observer-blinded trial during which half of volunteers will be given two injections of the vaccine candidate, 21 days apart, while the remaining receive a placebo.  The study aims to recruit 15,000 in total and over 500 participants are already participating in the study at the Patient Recruitment Centre in Bradford.

Jess, a transformation manager from Yorkshire and Humber, is one of the participants on the study in Bradford.

After receiving her first dose as part of the vaccine study, she said: “Taking part couldn’t have been a better process. I was sent lots of information and had the opportunity to read everything I was signing up to before I actually did it. A consultant took my consent and after some tests I was given the dose and put under observation. I have to go back on day 21 for my second dose and if at any point I think I have symptoms of Covid I have a dedicated number to call. I think I’m well supported and the staff made a real difference.

“I’m pleased to be able to play a small part in the study –  [the pandemic] isn’t going away until we have people taking part actively in these studies and without the collective efforts of all the people working on vaccines, we aren’t going to be able to beat the virus.”

The five National Patient Recruitment Centres, which are now operational and recruiting participants to studies, are based within the following NHS trusts:

  • PRC: Blackpool – Blackpool Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust
  • PRC: Bradford – Bradford Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust
  • PRC: Exeter – Royal Devon and Exeter NHS Foundation Trust
  • PRC: Newcastle – The Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust
  • PRC: Leicester – University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust

The NPRCs operate through a franchise model – an evolution in the way commercial research is delivered through the NHS. All five centres provide a uniform approach to research delivery which enable companies to benefit from the same level of dedicated facilities and staff at each location – resulting in quicker, easier, more consistent delivery of studies. To further increase the speed and efficiency by which studies can be set up, costed and contracted for delivery within the NHS, all five NPRCs also adhere to the new national contract value process which uses standardised costing and contracting processes and requires just one costing negotiation for all five centres, with minimal local variation.

Innovation minister Lord Bethell said: “More patients will be able to access cutting edge treatment and diagnostics, so they can lead happier, healthier lives, by increasing commercial studies in the UK and enabling a wider range of participants to take part in clinical research.

“These centres will go a long way in providing vital evidence to help us move towards a more nuanced understanding of COVID-19 risk and how it impacts different members of the population, including through high profile vaccine studies.”

Northern Powerhouse Minister Grant Shapps said: “Investing in innovative medical research in the NHS trusts in Blackpool, Bradford and Newcastle will benefit patients across the North, ensuring they can be among the first to access new treatments, including the latest Covid vaccines.

“Driving innovation and excellence in these pioneering institutes across the Northern Powerhouse will ensure the North continues to lead on vital research initiatives, and will help attract further investment from the global life science industry.”

Professor Dinesh Saralaya, Consultant Respiratory Physician/Associate Director at  Bradford Institute of Health Research and Director of the Bradford PRC said: “This is great news for our Trust and the city of Bradford, which we now know as the ‘City of Research.’ This is the net result of several years of excellent delivery into both early and late phase clinical trials at BTHFT and several Global first recruits.

“At Bradford we take pride in being the best. The new PRC will enable the wider community in Bradford and Yorkshire to access cutting edge new therapies for various chronic medical conditions

“In the current climate of finding a cure for COVID-19, the PRC will be set up as a priority centre to deliver on the various treatment trials for the virus. We are currently conducting a Phase 3 Covid Vaccine trial in which we were the first site in the UK to achieve our target of 501 subjects randomised.”

Dr William van’t Hoff, Chief Executive of the NIHR Clinical Research Network said: “The new National Patient Recruitment Centres will significantly increase our capacity and capability to support the delivery of late-phase commercial research through the NHS. By offering a streamlined, consistent and collaborative approach to study set-up and delivery, the centres will also make it quicker and easier for the life science industry to bring late phase studies to the UK and run these at pace and scale across our NHS.

“Most important of all, the centres will play a key role in helping people across the length and breadth of the country to take part in and benefit from innovative treatments through late phase commercial research – including the latest Covid-19 vaccines. With Covid-19 infections rising significantly across the UK, coinciding with an increasing number of vaccines ready to move into late phase trials, the launch of these new research centres will prove a timely and valuable asset in our urgent research response to the pandemic.”