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Coronavirus Diaries: Conducting COVID-19 clinical studies

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Olivia Barnes is a Senior Research Nurse at Sherbourne Medical Centre in Leamington Spa, where, alongside Principal Investigator Dr Paul Ainsworth, they conduct clinical trials. In the first of a new series of weekly posts we are calling the Coronavirus Diaries, we ask her about how COVID-19 has impacted clinical studies, as well as her work on two studies in response to the virus.

“We run opportunistic studies and now that patients aren't coming into the surgery that has put paid to any of those and different companies have started to put their research on hold. Obviously I have to see patients to take bloods and do physical tests, and we're not allowing people except for urgent matters into the surgery. Up until a couple of days ago, everything I was working on, I was doing by phone where I could.

And then everything changed a couple of days ago when we got two COVID-19 studies and I'm now frantically working to get those set up. They are both RCGP (Royal College of General Practitioners) studies; one is on test kits where patients with symptoms of COVID-19, and the other is a randomized study for an anti-malarial for the over 50s. Both are entirely remote; for the testing, the patient will give verbal consent and then self-test, and for the randomized study, the patient gives an eConsent and completes their eligibility online. The only thing that has to leave the surgery is the drugs and the test kits.

I can't believe the speed that they’ve been set up. Instead of things following a nice linear program, everybody's having to work very, very differently and things that you expect in a certain time frame has totally changed. The speed at which they're been set up is very impressive - the randomized trial has been put together in days and weeks rather than months.

Looking to the future I would hope that this speed is going to continue with other studies. I think the UK has lagged behind, and despite the best efforts of the NIHR, it still seems to take an inordinate amount of time to get things up and running.

If we get patients for the two COVID-19 studies, the only thing that will hold us back is access to the test kits. For the testing study we are looking for anybody with symptoms that they think could be COVID-19 and does not need any other health input. So we’re going to liaise with the 111 service to let them know patients can take part in this study. We want the test done within seven days of the first symptom, so it's a quick turnaround. I'll take the kit out myself and I may even wait until the person takes the swab and take it away from them as well.

We are a small research department, there is only three of us - the Principal Investigator, myself and site coordinator, so one could drop out due to illness or self isolation, but if two dropped out it would be a bit dire. I work three days a week, but I'm quite prepared to come in the other days to get these two very important studies done.”

Find out more about the studies or if you are interested in taking part in the trial, visit the Sherbourne Medical Centre website.

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