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Home » Clinical Trials » Why patient-centred trials lead the way in developing treatment

Professor Fai Ng

Director, CRF-UCC

Professor Barry Plant

Consultant Respiratory Physician and Clinical Lead, Respiratory Medicine, CUH

Professor Sinead Harney

Consultant Rheumatologist, CUH

Dr Frances Shiely

Director of Education, CRF-UCC

Leveraging academic and clinical expertise centred on patient involvement can draw forth better clinical outcomes and more effective, innovative treatments.

As the incoming director of the Clinical Research Facility at University College Cork (CRF-UCC), Professor Fai Ng believes there is a huge opportunity to develop the centre’s research infrastructure, with people from all sectors at the core.

Benefits of patient-centred trials

As Professor of Rheumatology and former Director of the NIHR Newcastle CRF, Ng underlines the importance of staff, Principal Investigators (PIs), industry partners and patients working together. He believes that CRF-UCC has the potential to become country-leading in Ireland, and internationally, as researchers develop new therapies.

The facility is co-funded by the Health Research Board and the College of Medicine and Health and can thus leverage academic and scientific excellence alongside clinical expertise across all medical specialties.

“Clinical trials are important if we want to develop new and better medicines, but there are economic benefits as well,” adds Ng, who takes up his new post on April 15.

Clinical trials for revolutionary drugs

The facility has an established track record in developing treatments in all therapeutic areas from laboratory through clinical trials. For instance, from its initial work with the cystic fibrosis (CF) drug ivacaftor in 2011, it has continued to engage with clinical trials, including with ETI (elexacaftor-tezacaftor-ivacaftor) for CF, explains Professor Barry Plant, Consultant Respiratory Physician, Clinical Director for Medicine and Director of the Adult Cystic Fibrosis Centre at Cork University Hospital (CUH).

“These new CF drugs are transformative and revolutionising patient care,” he adds. Several CF patients being treated at CUH are involved in trials with new drugs and studies. Many participated in the CFMATTERS trial assessing how best to use intravenous antibiotics for infections in CF patients.

Professor Plant explains telehealth and telemedicine approaches have also been supported to expand options for care delivery. His group is working with European bodies on these initiatives and looking at new ways of microbiology sampling to minimise cross-contamination and infection risk for patients, using next-generation bronchoscopy.

These new CF drugs are transformative and revolutionising patient care.

Professor Barry Plant

Patient-focused research

The CRF-UCC endeavours to deliver an infrastructure that enables busy academics and clinicians to conduct high-quality clinical research by providing access to expert staff including research nurses and statisticians, plus support around governance and ethics, and a patient-centred research environment

Professor Sinead Harney, Consultant Rheumatologist at CUH and Honorary Clinical Professor at UCC, highlighted how CRF-UCC has enabled her to remain active in clinical trials and address ongoing ‘unmet needs’ for rheumatology patients.

She is PI in Cork for the IDEA-FAST study that covers 14 other European countries investigating fatigue across inflammatory and neurodegenerative conditions. Other research areas include psoriatic arthritis and lupus.

Relevant outcomes for patients

Dr Frances Shiely, Director of Education at the CRF, says patients are playing increasing roles in clinical trials. “Twenty years ago, we used to do trials on patients,” she says. “Now, we do trials with patients.”

Patient and Public Involvement (PPI) sees patients working with researchers on trial design, recruitment, communication and dissemination of study findings ranging from new drugs to community-based interventions. There is also a move towards more decentralised clinical trials.

PPI leads to better-quality, more efficient trials with better recruitment and design, delivering more relevant outcomes for patients. “You can only do that when you work with the patients,” adds Dr Shiely.

Clinical trials previously involved patients as passive subjects. Today, trials engage with patients as active collaborators. This shift empowers patients, fostering a deeper partnership between researchers and those with lived experiences.

The CRF also offers a postgraduate certificate, postgraduate diploma and master’s degrees in clinical trials (online) and conducts funded research projects to create inclusive clinical trials, plus training and education on increasing involvement in underserved groups.

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