NI Research Infrastructure contribution to the COVID-19 Pandemic

By Dr Janice Bailie, Assistant Director, Health and Social Care (HSC) Research & Development (R&D) Division of the Public Health Agency

Janice Bailie
Janice Bailie

In April last year I wrote about the vital role Health and Social Care Research & Development (HSC R&D) Division is playing during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Since then, COVID-19 research got underway in Northern Ireland with HSC R&D Division investing significant funding in infrastructure, consisting of skilled research professionals to support the set up and delivery of HSC research. I am now pleased to be able to report that from this research we have more evidence around which interventions are the most effective in the treatment of Covid-19.

Researchers in NI have been able to participate and lead some of these urgent public health studies, delivered across the NI Clinical Research Network (NICRN) and other infrastructure such as the NI Clinical Research Facility (NICRF) and the NI Clinical Trials Unit (NICTU). Whilst this has been a challenge, it has also brought NI Researchers together in playing a key part in the global goal of understanding the virus better.

Around 1600 people in NI have now been recruited to COVID-19 research studies including vaccine trials.  450 of these have been recruited to the three priority studies highlighted by the UK Chief Medical Officers (CMOs) - RECOVERY, REMAP-CAP and PRINCIPLE. 482 people were recruited to the Novavax vaccine trial, which completed recruitment on 27 November in Belfast.  Further vaccine studies are anticipated in early 2021 taking place in C-TRIC at Altnagelvin.

Patients on the REMAP-CAP study were among the first to receive steroid therapies, which have proven effective in the management of severe COVID-19 symptoms. One example was Belfast man Brendan Fay who praised the work of REMAP-CAP as he underwent hospital treatment.

REALIST, a UK-wide urgent public health study, which is a cell therapy trial in critical care for patients with Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS), led by Professor Danny McAuley in Belfast Health and Social Care Trust and supported by the NICTU, has just completed recruitment for Covid-19 patients. With 40% of patients being recruited in Belfast alone, this is a reflection of the great health research work taking place here in NI.

HSC R&D Division continues to ensure that NI is well placed to participate in COVID-19 research. Praise must be given to the entire research infrastructure in Northern Ireland for how it has responded to the COVID-19 crisis.  The infrastructure has been instrumental in highlighting the way forward with both testing and treatment. This rapid mobilisation and the benefits of research should be evidence of the vital role research plays in the delivery of effective health and social care at all times.

 For more information on HSC R&D please visit:

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