After Brexit, cross border clinical trials should remain as quick and safe to set up as possible
As we celebrate International Clinical Trials Day we should resolve to ensure future patients continue to see such progress.The UK’s clinical research environment is strengthened by international collaboration, and it’s our responsibility as politicians to create the right environment so that it can continue to thrive, says Chris Green MP.
Today, I will lead a debate in Westminster Hall to mark International Clinical Trials Day and celebrate the achievements of researchers driving forward medical progress. I will also use this opportunity to make it clear that we cannot take the UK’s status as a world-leader in clinical research for granted and must act, to ensure vital progress continues apace to maintain our position. Of course, for the benefit of patients but also, for the highly trained staff who work in the sector.
International Clinical Trials Day commemorates what is often considered to be one of the first clinical trials. In 1747, James Lind, Surgeon Mate of the HMS Salisbury, recruited 12 men to test the theory that acids could treat scurvy. The trial was a success and contributed to a body of research which eventually saw the Royal Navy issuing lemon juice to all sailors and saving countless lives. Clinical research has come a long way since then, but the principle remains the same, ensuring new medical interventions and treatments are safe and effective, and while Lind’s trial was confined to his ship, now trials often sprawl across multiple countries, so is a global endeavour.
Take the Paediatric Hepatic International Tumour Trial (PHITT) run out of the Cancer Research UK Clinical Trials Unit in Birmingham, investigating treatments for rare childhood liver cancers.
The (thankfully) small number of patients in the UK makes research difficult to do here alone but collaboration with 18 institutions in 15 EU nations has meant that 1200 participants can be recruited
This trial is but one example of the vast international clinical research landscape, in which the UK plays a major role. Of the 700 cancer trials taking place in the UK, over half are also being run in other EU countries.
Cross border collaboration has become an essential part of running successful clinical trials, offering patients in the UK and beyond opportunities to access potentially life-saving new treatments early in their development.
Clearly there is much to be decided in terms of the UK’s future relationship with the EU but the productive relationships between our research communities, which bring so much benefit to patients, must not be jeopardised by broader political questions.
A pragmatic step negotiating teams on both sides of the channel could take is to agree that cross border clinical trials should remain as quick and safe to set up as possible. The new Clinical Trial Regulation, which the UK was central in formulating, will come into effect in the EU soon, and our Government has positively stated it will align with this as closely as possible, but the Regulation is underpinned by a digital portal and database, access to which still needs to be negotiated.
It would be a welcome move from both sides to agree shared access to these systems, and ensure patients and researchers have certainty that vital international clinical trials will continue as they currently do.
So, as we celebrate International Clinical Trials Day, and the remarkable improvements in treatments driven by clinical research since James Lind’s first efforts, we should resolve to ensure future patients continue to see such progress. The UK’s clinical research environment is strengthened by international collaboration, and it’s our responsibility as politicians to create the right environment so that it can continue to thrive.
Chris Green is Conservative MP for Bolton West.