Streamlining access to clinical researchNOCRI is the latest initiative to help companies find their way through the growing NIHR research infrastructure. Matthew Hallsworth explains the work of NOCRI, and offers a guide to the range of NIHR-funded facilities, centres and expertise now available
Last year the National Institute for Health Research established its Office for Clinical Research Infrastructure (NOCRI) to support the NIHR’s objective of creating an effective and efficient clinical research environment. The aim of NOCRI was to maximise the contribution NIHR-funded infrastructure makes to health research and patient benefit, and to capitalise on this to help build the country’s competitiveness as a location for applied clinical research.
So one year on, just how has NOCRI helped the pharmaceutical, biotechnology and medical technology industries navigate the UK research environment and engage with the clinical research expertise and facilities it offers?
Support for industry
Industry has often commented on how the complexity of the UK clinical research environment is a barrier to effective engagement. The abundance of acronyms within NIHR-funded facilities and centres, and the wide range of delivery organisations, helps to compound this problem. To address these issues NOCRI is able to offer support for potential research partners and customers at two levels:
Research signposting – NOCRI is ideally placed to help research partners navigate the clinical research environment. It has a unique overview of the broad range of infrastructure that the NIHR supports and how it works together to support the flow of innovation. Through personal support and on-line tools the NOCRI team, under the direction of Mark Samuels, former director for medical and public affairs at Roche, is helping companies find expert researchers and research groups, as well as world-class facilities and technologies. NOCRI provides a first point of contact for companies and can rapidly direct enquiries to the most appropriate individuals and organisations to support their research needs.
Research collaboration management – NOCRI has built up strong relationships with the country’s leading investigators and research teams and can quickly link them with potential research partners. If those research partners are companies, NOCRI can coordinate early stage, open innovation, discussions with the country’s leading investigators with expertise in specific disease pathways and potential therapeutic targets. Subsequently, NOCRI can facilitate the development of initial discussions into mutually beneficial research collaborations.
To support collaboration NOCRI, working with the Medical Research Council, has led the development of a new model agreement to support the efficient set up of collaborative research partnerships between industry, universities and NHS organisations. The model Industry Collaborative Research Agreement (mICRA) should streamline and speed up the contracting process for this type of research, encouraging joint ownership and engagement, as well as equitable sharing of risk and reward between industry, academic and NHS partners.
The pharmaceutical, biotechnology, and device and diagnostics industries are increasingly taking advantage of the expertise and support that is available through NIHR infrastructure, but there are still many opportunities for increased collaboration.
A guide to NIHR-supported research infrastructure
The National Institute for Health Research has established a broad range of infrastructure within the NHS to support high quality clinical research throughout the innovation pathway:
NIHR Biomedical Research Centres play a key role in driving forward innovation in biomedicine. They are hosted by partnerships between the country’s leading universities and NHS organisations and have been recognised, through international peer review, as being at the forefront of scientific translation. Five Centres have a comprehensive remit, working across a range of disease and therapeutic areas. A further seven Centres work in individual specialist areas, including ageing; cancer; genetics and developmental medicine; mental health; microbial diseases; paediatrics and child health; and ophthalmology.
NIHR Biomedical Research Units bring together some of the country’s leading health researchers and clinicians to carry out translational clinical research in a number of areas of high disease burden and unmet clinical need. These include cardiovascular disease; deafness and hearing problems; gastrointestinal disease; musculoskeletal disease; nutrition, diet and lifestyle; respiratory disease; infection; and pancreatic disease.
Biomedical Research Centres and Units offer a direct route to work with this country’s leading clinical researchers with expertise to translate fundamental biomedical research into new and improved therapeutic approaches.
NIHR Research Centres for NHS Patient Safety and Service Quality are centres of international expertise where NHS professionals work with experts in a wide range of research disciplines to improve patient safety, quality and effectiveness of healthcare services. The Centres examine how services are organised and delivered and are looking at examples of best practice from the healthcare sector and other industries. This includes investigating how new technologies can be safely introduced and managed in the NHS.
Clinical Research Facilities and Experimental Cancer Medicine Centres provide dedicated research facilities for early-phase volunteer and patient studies. They are run by experienced researchers, research nurses and support staff and can provide assistance throughout the research process from trial design through to data collection and study management. The facilities work with Biomedical Research Centres and Units and with Clinical Research Networks to ensure that advances in biomedical research can feed through into improvements in healthcare.
NIHR Clinical Research Networks
support later-phase and multi-centre clinical studies, providing a single point of national access for this type of research in the NHS. The Networks offer expert support for study and protocol feasibility assessment; access to systems to speed clinical trial set up, including costing, contracting and R&D approvals; and staff and resources to ensure efficient patient recruitment and study delivery. Studies in all areas of disease and clinical need are supported through a Comprehensive Clinical Research Network, a Primary Care Research Network and six topic-specific Clinical Research Networks covering cancer, dementias and neurodegenerative diseases, diabetes, medicines for children, mental health and stroke.
Healthcare Technology Cooperatives work to accelerate the development and adoption of technologies, treatments, devices and services to help people with debilitating conditions deal with their daily challenges. They are NHS-led virtual organisations that bring together patients and carers, healthcare staff, academics, inventors and industry to develop practical and innovative healthcare products to address areas of unmet patient and clinical need. There are currently two pilot Healthcare Technology Cooperatives working in the areas of urinary continence and bowel function.
NIHR Collaborations for Leadership in Applied Health Research and Care (CLAHRCs) carry out applied health research with a focus on translation of research findings into improved patient outcomes. They are structured as collaborative partnerships between a university and its surrounding NHS organisations and conduct research centred on the needs of patients, particularly targeted at chronic disease and public health interventions.
For more detailed advice on how the NIHR infrastructure can support research or for help setting up a collaboration with a particular part of the infrastructure, please contact the NOCRI team at email@example.com
or on 020 7210 6217. www.nihr.ac.uk/nocri
Dr Matthew Hallsworth is head of communications at the NIHR Office for Clinical Research Infrastructure