Wales is playing a key role in the UK-wide effort to find treatments for COVID-19 patients through research, with 11 urgent public health research studies already taking place and further studies being set up.
These studies – set up through Health and Care Research Wales and co-ordinated nationally – are being run right across Wales and are looking into multiple treatments for patients, identifying risk factors and specific genes for susceptibility of severe disease, all strengthening the evidence to help fight the disease.
Patients are being recruited across the whole spectrum of the illness ranging from those with symptoms in the community to patients in intensive care units who are seriously ill. Studies are also focusing on the most effective treatments for specific groups including pregnant women and children and young people whose immune systems are not functioning as they should, affecting their ability to fight disease.
The Randomised Evaluation of COVID Therapy (RECOVERY) trial is one of the UK-wide studies taking place across Wales*; testing to see if existing or new drugs can help patients who have been admitted to hospital with confirmed COVID-19. It’s the world’s largest randomised clinical trial of potential COVID-19 treatments, led by the University of Oxford and funded by the Medical Research Council.
Health boards in Wales** are also taking part in REMAP-CAP: a platform trial for severely ill patients with COVID-19. This trial, led in the UK by Imperial College London and funded by the University Medical Centre Utrecht, is testing multiple treatments at the same time, for patients admitted to intensive care with severe community acquired pneumonia.
There is a UK-wide process to prioritise urgent public health COVID-19 research studies to ensure that all resources are contributing to one big national effort; gathering the necessary evidence to inform policy and enable new diagnostic tests, treatments and vaccines to be developed and tested.
Professor Kieran Walshe, Director of Health and Care Research Wales, said:
“We’re facing an unprecedented challenge as we try to tackle the spread of COVID-19. It’s important we’re able to use our research capabilities and expertise to gather timely evidence that can lead to the most effective treatments and care, and ultimately a vaccine.
“Health and Care Research Wales is prioritising resources and fast-track support for COVID-19 urgent public health research studies, and is also working with UK counterparts to enable Welsh researchers to access funding for COVID-19 research.
“We are encouraging Welsh institutions and researchers to respond to the urgent research needs associated with the pandemic and its impact.
“I believe the research community in Wales can continue to make a difference and play a full part in finding a solution to COVID-19.”
Health and Care Research Wales is also working with the University of Oxford, and GPs across Wales, to set up the Platform Randomised trial of INterventions against COVID-19 In older people (PRINCIPLE) study. The trial aims to give a rapid answer about the effectiveness of different treatments, initially of hydroxychloroquine, an anti-malarial drug, in changing the development of the disease.
Vaughan Gething, Minister for Health and Social Services, said:
“I am extremely proud of the research community in Wales, playing its part in the UK-wide effort to fight the battle against the Coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic.
“There has been an exceptional response from the health boards and trusts to the need for urgent public health research, and studies are being set up within 24 hours in some cases.
“Research is vital to deal with this pandemic, and these studies are providing the evidence to enable new treatments, diagnostics and vaccines to be developed.
“Thank you to everyone who is involved in making this happen. Whether you’re a researcher, research nurse, administrator or a patient – you’re all helping to be part of the solution to COVID-19.”
Health and Care Research Wales’ research teams are working hard to recruit patients to take part in studies, from GP surgeries through to intensive care units, as well as field hospitals across Wales.
Jayne Goodwin, National Head of Research Delivery at Health and Care Research Wales, is overseeing the set up and delivery of COVID-19 research studies at Ysbyty Calon y Ddraig/Dragon’s Heart Hospital in the Principality Stadium in Cardiff.
Jayne, who is a research nurse, said:
“Clinical research staff are highly trained but small in number within the NHS workforce. They are crucial to delivering research studies at the front line of care.
“Setting up research within Ysbyty Calon y Ddraig has provided a new challenge but it is fundamental that patients in all our facilities across Wales have opportunities to take part in research, receive treatments and make a difference to future care and treatment of COVID-19.”
The Health and Care Research Wales COVID-19 research in Wales webpage has details of all related research studies that are active, or in set up, in Wales.
*The RECOVERY trial is currently open in Aneurin Bevan University Health Board, Cardiff and Vale University Health Board, Hywel Dda University Health Board, Swansea Bay University Health Board, Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board and Velindre University NHS Trust.
**The REMAP-CAP trial is currently open in Aneurin Bevan University Health Board and Cardiff and Vale University Health Board. It is in the process of being set up in Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board and Swansea Bay University Health Board.