U.K. government-backed medical research shut down amid COVID-19

A man wearing a mask on the London Underground due to coronavirus
The U.K.’s major biomedical body, the NIHR Clinical Research Network, is closing its doors as the country has enacted a partial lockdown while COVID-19 cases and deaths accelerate. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth via Newscred)

The U.K.’s major biomedical body, the NIHR Clinical Research Network (CRN), is shutting down in the midst of the growing COVID-19 epidemic in the country.

With cases hitting nearly 12,000 and deaths jumping to more than 500 this week, the NIHR’s CRN, which last year supported more than 6,100 studies and recruited over 870,000 participants, is “pausing” all trials in order to redeploy medical staff to the front lines of the COVID-19 response.

“Until further notice, the NIHR Clinical Research Network is pausing the site set up of any new or ongoing studies at NHS and social care sites that are not nationally prioritised COVID-19 studies,” it said in a statement.

“This will enable our research workforce to focus on delivering the nationally prioritised COVID-19 studies or enabling redeployment to frontline care where necessary. These studies are enabling the clinical and epidemiological evidence to be gathered to inform national policy and will enable new treatments, diagnostics and vaccines to be developed and tested. The complete focus of the NIHR Clinical Research Network will be on delivering these highest priority COVID-19 studies. “

The U.K.’s regulatory body, the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency, will “continue to provide an approvals service for all studies, prioritised in accordance with the national situation, ensuring site set-up can restart promptly in due course,” it added.

Talking to the BMJ, Aisling Burnand, chief executive of the Association of Medical Research Charities, said the decision will have a serious effect on participants because trials are a “crucial lifeline.”

“We ask that decisions on each trial are made with that impact on patients in mind. These decisions need to be proportionate and communicated transparently and sensitively.”

This comes as the likes of Pfizer, Merck, Intercept and more are delaying a number of clinical trials in the U.S. and Europe amid the major lockdown aimed at curbing COVID-19’s spread.