269 years ago the first ever clinical trial was carried out, looking into the link between vitamin C and scurvy.
Since then clinical trials have developed into a vital tool for healthcare. To celebrate the importance of James Lind’s pioneering work, each year on May 20 International Clinical Trials Day is held.
Now almost 300 years after this breakthrough work, why is research in healthcare still so important and how does it benefit patients today?
Clinical trials help to find out if treatments are safe, if they have any side effects and if new treatments are better than the standard available treatments.
“International Clinical Trials Day is a great opportunity to celebrate the crucial role of research and clinical trials to the NHS. From paracetamol and chemotherapy to treatments for depression and diabetes - without research, many of the treatments and types of care that we receive today just wouldn’t be available.
“And members of the public have an essential role to play, since without people agreeing to take part in research studies these improved treatments and care wouldn’t exist.” Professor Steve Bain, ABMU Health Board’s Assistant Medical Director
And South West Wales’s reputation for clinical research excellence is growing through the ambitious aims of the ARCH Programme. ARCH (A Regional Collaboration for Health), is a unique partnership between Swansea University and ABMU and Hywel Dda health boards.
The ARCH partners are working to bring health and science together to transform the NHS, train and develop the next generation of doctors, nurses, health workers and scientist and also boost the local economy by encouraging investment opportunities and creating new jobs.
Professor Bain explains: “Through the ambitions of ARCH, our patients and staff can gain great benefits from an expanded clinical research environment.
“We will be able to maximise the potential of the 1 million ARCH population to position this region, and indeed Wales, as a leader in championing clinical research within the NHS.”
Professor Bain added that Swansea already has a good track record of working with new drugs for treating diabetes: “Hopefully, the development of ARCH will lead to an upscaling of our activities so we can become a major player in the global search for new medicines.”
The Joint Clinical Research Facility (J-CRF) in Swansea was established in 1990 and has a team of highly trained research nursing staff and an excellent track record for recruitment and randomisation.
“Clinical trials are not only income-generating for the health board and the university’s medical school, they save the NHS money because the medicines are provided free by the companies trying to license them. Having people on these trials also frees up places within hospitals so NHS patients can be treated more quickly.” Kathie Wareham, director of clinical research at J-CRF
“Clinical trials can help us learn how to prevent illnesses by testing a vaccine for example, detect or diagnose illnesses by testing a scan or blood test and also importantly help find out how people can control their symptoms or improve their quality of life – for example, by testing how a particular diet or activity affects a condition.” Dr Phil Kloer, Hywel Dda’s medical director and ARCH lead
Dr Kloer also stressed the rigorous protocols around clinical trials to ensure safety is paramount at all times: “Trials follow a set of rules, known as a protocol, to ensure they are well designed and as safe as possible, they measure the right things in the right way, and the results are meaningful. All trials are closely monitored.”
Clinical research is funded through a number of routes, Welsh Government funds research in Wales through Health and Care Research Wales and each health board has a budget for R&D. Dr Jonathan Bisson, director of Health and Care Research Wales, said Wales has a huge role to play in delivering clinical trials research.
“Through Health and Care Research Wales, the Welsh Government is investing in Clinical Trials Units including Swansea Trials Unit (STU). International Clinical Trials Day is a great way to showcase the work going on here in Wales.” Dr Jonathan Bisson, director of Health and Care Research Wales
Swansea Trials Unit (STU) has run nearly 40 trials valued at more than £20 million. STU manager Gail Holland said: “We aim to improve the health of the people of South West Wales and beyond by enhancing the number, progress and quality of trials, with particular reference to secondary and emergency care.
“Thanks to funding from Health and Care Research Wales we are able to provide training to build capacity in clinical trials. We also offer advice and support for trial design, regulation, recruitment, data collection, management and analysis.”
Dr Bisson added: “We want more people to understand the value and importance of clinical trials and research and hopefully they will consider taking part.
“By taking part in a research study, you could benefit future generations and play a really important role in medical progress.”
To find out more about clinical trials you can attend Health and Care Research Wales’s free event at Swansea’s Waterfront Museum on Friday, May 20 from 12pm to 2pm to mark International Clinical Trials Day.