Professor Martin Gibson MD, PhD
Clinical Director of the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Network for Greater Manchester
Data-enabled clinical trials proved their worth during the COVID-19 pandemic and offer a genuine opportunity to transform clinical research.
Many scientists and researchers are pushing for the UK to realise the potential of data-enabled trials and electronic health records (EHRs) to accelerate clinical research progress.
Professor Martin Gibson, clinical director of the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) network for Greater Manchester says, “When the pandemic hit, the potential of using patient data to improve clinical trials became clear and helped researchers set up and run trials more effectively. The NIHR vaccines research registry is an example of what can be achieved and was set up in six weeks.” Over 500,000 people have volunteered to participate in research through the registry, making it an important recruitment resource for researchers working on vaccines.
When the pandemic hit, the potential of using patient data to improve clinical trials became clear.
Pioneering diabetes studies
Professor Gibson’s long-standing interest in the potential of EHRs within the NHS to facilitate clinical research and improve care, stems from his experience as a consultant working with diabetes. He says: “The sort of remote monitoring technology we pioneered with diabetes enabled the shift to remote trials during the pandemic and allowed us to continue to improve care and treatment.”
Using NHS EHRs – which can potentially capture the longitudinal medical history of 98% of NHS users – could solve some of the patient recruitment problems common to trials. Professor Gibson says: “EHRs also give us the opportunity to recruit a wider cross section of the population and make trials more representative.”
Professor Gibson also points to the success of the fully decentralised ISARIC 4C study into COVID-19 and the Relieve IBS-D trial into irritable bowel syndrome as examples of progress in remote trial delivery.
Solving privacy concerns
As a physician, researcher and self-confessed ‘tech geek’, Professor Gibson sees the benefits of data-enabled trials to enhance study planning, recruitment, assessment and ultimately patient benefit.
The NIHR is actively supporting work to develop UK capability to deliver trials that are suitable for data-enabled and/or decentralised models. Amongst over a dozen NIHR supported projects underway are two fully data-enabled studies into atrial fibrillation and management of asthma in children.
Despite concerns over privacy, which Professor Gibson says can be solved by good communication and informed consent, he believes the UK has proved its agility during the pandemic and can build on this to effect real progress.