As the lockdown in the UK continues into its second month I want to once again thank all our staff for the way they have adapted and excelled in these unprecedented times.
We have rapidly shifted focus to where our research excellence is needed most. A number of our large cohort studies (EXCEED, GENVASC, BRICCS and CODEC) have submitted amendments to collect data related to COVID-19 symptoms and outcomes. The new ACCORD 2 clinical trial platform will be starting shortly, using leading research expertise in the NIHR Respiratory Translational Research Collaboration (TRC), of which we play an important role.
Gerry McCann, as our new cardiovascular lead, is our academic lead in the NIHR-BHF partnership. He is part of weekly steering committee meetings vetting proposals for COVID-19 research along with Nilesh Samani as BHF Medical Director, and Andre Ng. A focus of this partnership is studying heart disease as a major risk factor for COVID-19.
It is becoming apparent that there is an association between COVID-19 and ethnicity in the UK, although the causes of this are not yet clear. This is of course a national issue, but also an issue of particular importance to a diverse city such as Leicester. Professor Kamlesh Khunti has spoken in the BBC and Guardian to raise awareness of this issue, and Dr Manish Pareek has written in the Lancet and spoken to the BBC. We are working closely with partners in the Centre for BME Health, CRN East Midlands, and ARC East Midlands to better understand this pressing research question.
In order to continue our dedication to public involvement in research, a ‘COVID-19 Rapid Response PPI Panel’ has been established. This mailing list will allow researchers to receive feedback from the public on documents such as lay summaries and patient information sheets and still meet fast-tracked deadlines. To access this list, please email Sian.Lyons@uhl-tr.nhs.uk.
I also want to thank colleagues who are helping to undertake ongoing national trials, such as RECOVERY, RECOVERY-RS, and ISARIC. These large-scale collaborations are ensuring research is rapid during this crisis and Leicester’s outstanding contributions to these priority public health studies has been recognised widely on a national level. We have already reached our recruitment target for the SYNAIRGEN trial, which means we can now focus on other experimental medicine platforms.
On a recent teleconference with Sir Mark Walport, Chief Executive of UKRI, he went out of his way to congratulate Leicester which is seen as leading the way in recruiting to these trials with a real collective effort. The team in Leicester have really shown great collaboration and flexible working supporting the clinical service but also working with R&I across our BRC themes, the CRF, CRN, and ARC to respond to this crisis situation. We have risen to the challenge, which is something to be very proud of.
While it looks as if the peak of the coronavirus may have been passed, we know there is still a long way to go to find the most effective treatments and a vaccine. Certainly, as well as our immediate response to the Urgent Public Health research, we will over time see a shift towards research into the longer term impacts of COVID-19 and the most effective methods to enable patients to recover and rehabilitate in our communities.
Finally, May is National Walking Month. During lockdown it is likely that your activity levels have changed – for some they may have increased, but for many working from home they have likely decreased. A daily walk is allowed and indeed encouraged during this health crisis – the faster the better. Members of our Health and Lifestyle research team have set a fantastic example with a coordinated walk for health.
Once again, thank you all for showing such resilience in these rapidly changing times.
Professor Melanie Davies