Conference highlights the impact of NIHR Patient Recruitment Centre: Blackpool

The work of NIHR Patient Recruitment Centre: Blackpool in the community’s health levelling-up mission was highlighted at a one-day conference held in the town. 

Blackpool in Lancashire has one of the lowest male and female life expectancies in England, with figures showing more than a third of people will die before the age of 75. Cardiovascular disease and cancer rates are high, as is substance misuse among young people. 

The conference, hosted by Blackpool Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, heard how medical research is playing its part in meeting those health challenges – and the vital role it will play going forward. 

More than 870 people have already benefitted from ground-breaking medical treatments trialled at the PRC based in Blackpool Victoria Hospital since its launch 18 months ago. 

The well-attended conference also heard from PRC and National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) national and regional figures, as well as members of Blackpool’s clinical research team. 

Speakers included Dr Richard Evans, the National Patient Recruitment Centre Manager for the NIHR Clinical Research Network (CRN), who spoke about the work of the five PRCs in England and its impact. 

Dr Gavin Galasko, Clinical Director of the PRC Blackpool and Consultant Cardiologist at the Trust, revealed how Blackpool is rising to the challenge of its health and research inequalities, which he spelled out to the audience. 

He told the conference at Blackpool Village Hotel: “How do we improve things? How do we get better? We do that through research.” 

He added: “Research makes a difference. In hospitals that do a lot of research patients live longer, survive better, they do better.” 

The PRC’s achievements in Blackpool include administering the world’s first Novavax Covid-19 vaccine, after clinical trials began in autumn 2020 in partnership with Fylde Coast Clinical Research.  

Novavax is now a World Health Organisation approved vaccine and it is aiming to deliver 2billion doses worldwide in 2022 and beyond. 

Since its launch, PRC Blackpool’s achievements also include becoming the first UK site to open three cancer studies offering early access to new treatments in breast cancer. 

It also recruited the first UK patient to a Multiple Myeloma study, which is being undertaken in Blackpool and recruited patients to three pivotal heart disease studies.  

Underlining the PRC’s determination to do more, Dr Galasko said: “This year alone we have had six studies that have either been a first in the UK, first in Europe or potentially the first in the world.” 

As well as reflecting on the progress made, the day-long event also discussed growing the research capability and the need for continued collaboration between primary care, public health professionals and local authorities, to collectively address Blackpool’s challenges. 

Professor Enitan Carrol, Clinical Director NIHR Clinical Research Network NWC, spoke on growing research capability to meet those challenges. 

Other sessions looked at the virtual future for clinical trials and gave a primary care perspective of clinical research. 

Professor Dinesh Saralaya, Clinical Director PRC: Bradford and National Clinical Lead for Industry Respiratory Medicine NIHR, spoke about the work being done in the West Yorkshire city to take research to a population which needs it. 

The event was opened by Trish Armstrong-Child, CEO of Blackpool Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust.  She said medical research was revolutionising treatments in areas such as cancer, adding: “It is all about how people live with conditions now, and that is all down to R&D.” 

She praised the PRC for its innovation and ambition, telling the conference: “It is a privilege as chief executive to be part of this and to have such a fantastic research and development arm to the organization.” 

Dr Jim Gardner, Executive Medical Director at the Trust, added: “I’m really proud of a Trust that is pushing the boundaries around R&D. It is good for the organisation, and it is good for our patients.” 

The NIHR Patient Recruitment Centre: Blackpool is based at Blackpool Victoria Hospital and is one of five national Patient Recruitment Centres (PRCs) which launched across England in 2020.  

Dr Angela Parker, PRC Blackpool Manager and Manager for Research, Development and Innovation at Blackpool Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, highlighted the importance of patient involvement in successful trials. 

She said: “We have recruited over 230 study participants through the PRC in this year alone, across a broad portfolio of studies. 

“By attracting more commercial research to the UK, we will also increase opportunities for our patients to access cutting edge treatment and therapies that are not yet widely available through the NHS.  

“We work across the region, through our partners and stakeholders, to ensure as many people as possible are given an opportunity to take part in high quality clinical research.” 

Dr Pavel Bezecny, consultant medical oncologist at Blackpool Teaching Hospitals, took attendees through the wide range of cancer clinical research projects currently taking place, and in the pipeline, and explained there was potential to do more. 

The event was closed by Steve Fogg, who chairs the Trust. He said integrated research delivered great outcomes and added: “That has got to be what we do.” 

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