- Stuart Fuller -
It may have passed most of us by, but last week International Clinical Trials Day. Over two hundred and fifty years ago on this very day, James Lind started his now famous trial on the deadly disease, Scurvy. Today, in a world that is dominated by one particular medical event, clinical trials have never been more important and we should all take a moment to reflect on the amazing work that organisations and individuals across the world are carrying out to find vaccine to COVID-19.
In better times the day has focused on raising the awareness of the importance of research to healthcare and the importance of the relationship between researchers and patient well-being. However, with the global pandemic still having a firm grasp on what normal is to most of us, the day is a stark reminder of the vital work that has to take place to return society to a safe and secure footing. One thing is for sure, ‘normal’ will have a new meaning for all of us.
Times have moved on significantly since the days of Lind who carried out his trials on HMS Salisbury as it sailed from port to port. Today, medical research is a serious business and a vital part of improving the quality of life for millions of people around the world every year. Professor Dame Sally Davies, the former Chief Medical Officer and Chief Scientific Adviser at the Department of Health underlined the importance of both the day but Clinical Trials in general:
“Clinical Trials are a vital element of the work supported and funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR). Our role is to develop the research evidence to support decision making by professionals, policy makers and patients, make this evidence available, and make it available through publication to encourage its uptake and use.”
The NIHR funds a wide range of programmes and infrastructure initiatives to support this aim and most NHS Trusts will still use the day to raise awareness of the work that their Clinical Trial Teams carry out over and above the focus on COVID-19, how vital their work is and what safe guards are in place to protect their patients.
The question of public awareness within this vital aspect of medical care goes hand in hand with education about the dangers of using counterfeit or illegally-prescribed drugs that have recently hit the headlines. At a time of heightened worry and concern, people are driven online to look for preventative medicines, which in turn fuels the activities of the fraudsters who do not care about the work carried out by the clinical trial teams, but just to make financial gain. In March one particular website that was offering a vaccine for $4.95 was shut down by the Department of Justice in the US whilst countless others have also been taken offline around the world. Whilst desperate times often call for desperate measures, consumers need to be aware of the dangers posed by the websites offering drugs that combat or cure the virus.
The lengthy process from laboratory to first patients within a clinical trial is costly, with drug companies often investing billions of dollars to get through the rigorous process. Unless the drug companies take the same diligent steps as a non-medical brand holder would, they could find their intellectual property, such as domain names that match drug patents, falling into the wrong hands, and potentially putting the lives of patients at risk when they are used to host websites making bogus claims.
Research and Clinical Trials are often assumed to be part of the “business as usual” within the healthcare and medical industry. Recent events have put a huge focus on the work the trial teams do, ensuring that when we do finally have a vaccine to COVID-19 it is safe as possible. BrandShelter's role is to support them as much as we can by being part of the solution and not the problem.
However there have even been cases of individuals and organisations setting up bogus trials, putting lives at risk, for financial gain. It is vital that the reputation of the healthcare system as a whole as a safe place to trial new drugs and advance treatments is protected, which means applying the same diligence as any commercial organisation would with regard to product testing and quality assurance.
We should not just celebrate the history of clinical trials and the amazing work that the teams all across the world do but support them in any way we can to find a vaccine to a virus that has impacted each and every one of us.