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Coronavirus: process for fast track-research

During a public health emergency, time is of the essence. When faced with a new adversary, such as pandemic flu or coronavirus, health research studies enable us to understand more about the condition. They help to generate better diagnoses, test new treatments and can help to prevent and manage the spread of disease. Last week the National Institute of Health Research (NIHR) and UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) announced that £20m was available for new studies which could help with the coronavirus outbreak.

To ensure that this kind of research can start as soon as possible, in some cases the HRA and devolved administrations are able to fast-track the review of a study. This means that researchers receive approval to begin much more quickly than the usual timelines, sometimes in a matter of hours. The full process for fast-track reviews is set out in the Standard Operating Procedures for Research Ethics Committees.

If a researcher has a study which they think needs fast-track review they should contact the Director of the Approvals Service as soon as possible, as well as the research operations lead in the relevant nation if the study is taking place in the devolved administrations. In Northern Ireland Sally Doherty (sally.doherty@westerntrust.hscni.net or 07917137835) is the NI research operations lead. Information on how to do this is available in the emergency approvals section of our website. These senior staff quickly consider the potential impact of any delay on public health and give the researcher, or sponsor, permission to submit an urgent application. The researcher will also be advised to contact other regulators, for example the Medicine and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) if the study requires clinical trial authorisation.

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