Conference hears of significant opportunity to increase Ireland’s clinical trial footprint

Statistics have revealed that the Irish clinical trials infrastructure is showing growth at a steady pace with 237 trial sites now open across the Irish network, up from 134 in 2014 when HRB-CRCI was first established to assist coordinate a system to enable and support more clinical trials in Ireland.

There are seven clinical research facilities and centres in the HRB-CRCI partnership across Ireland with over 330 clinical investigators (doctors) leading and conducting individual trials. Enhanced national and international collaboration will lead to a substantial increase in the number of European and international clinical trials taking place in Ireland, and the increase will be all the greater post Brexit, a national seminar to mark International Clinical Trials Day heard.

The Health Research Board Clinical Research Coordination Ireland (HRB-CRCI) Growing Clinical Research in Ireland Together conference in the Mansion House, Dublin hosted over 200 delegates from across the clinical, medical, patient and academic sectors to discuss the unique place Ireland would have in the clinical trial arena, as the only native English language speaking country in Europe, post Brexit.

This, in the context of our cohort of internationally regarded health professionals, experts in managing clinical trials, could boost Ireland’s footprint significantly as a location for international clinical trials.

The benefits would be far reaching, as it would result in more trials taking place here, offering greater access for Irish patients to potentially lifesaving and life enhancing therapies. The HRB-CRCI stated that Ireland is uniquely placed to take on a lead role for clinical trials in Europe and whilst there has been an increase year-on-year in clinical trial activity in Ireland, the growth could be faster with the right focus and application now to take best advantage of the post Brexit environment.

The seminar heard from a panel of national and international expert speakers who explored the importance of international collaboration. It was announced at the event that Ireland aims to become a member of the European Clinical Research Infrastructure Network (ECRIN) in the near future, with the necessary Government approval pending.

This membership will give Ireland direct access into this important European public, non-profit network that links scientific partners and clinical research networks across Europe to facilitate multi-national research.

According to Dr Fionnuala Keane, Chief Operating Officer, HRBCRCI, a number of multinational pharmaceutical companies have their European headquarters based in the UK and to date the UK has been the lead country sponsor for a large number of regulated clinical trials in Europe. Countries outside the EU are regarded as ‘third countries” and cannot act as a European sponsor.

“With the UK planning on leaving the EU, Ireland is perfectly positioned to take on the country sponsor role for more clinical trials. In tandem, our membership of ECRIN will further integrate and embed Irish clinical research within Europe, and this will be even more significant post Brexit.

“Ireland’s ability to collaborate on clinical research across Europe will be enhanced by ECRIN membership and Irish researchers and Irish patients will have increased opportunities to participate in Europe wide clinical trials.”

Prof Jacques Demotes, Director General, ECRIN, and Keynote Speaker at the event stated that; “Over the next few years, we can expect major changes in the way data is collected and analysed in clinical trials, with a better reuse of digital data collected in the context of healthcare. However this will raise questions regarding data standards, data security and personal data protection, a major challenge for the clinical research community.”

The seminar heard from Dr Mairéad O’ Driscoll, Interim Chief Executive, Health Research Board that “clinical trials can save lives and improve patient care. A strong clinical research infrastructure gives Irish people access to lifesaving trials and the Health Research Board is committing a further 11.6 million this year to ensure that this continues to happen.

“We believe that this investment, together with the HRB CRCI’s proven expertise to attract trials here and the collaborative approach taken to trials in Ireland, will ensure Irish people can benefit from more international trials into the future.’”

According to Prof Joe Eustace, Director HRB CRF Cork & Chair of HRB CRCI Senior Management Team said, “the conduct of Clinical Trials is highly regulated and requires stringent quality structures; the growth in clinical trial activity In Ireland not only serves to identify new medical interventions and care pathways but also to promote quality and conformance with International Best Practice within the Irish Health System.”

CEO Dr. Pat O’Mahony Chief Executive of Clinical Research Development Ireland (CRDI) added ”a well resourced and active clinical research infrastructure supports better outcomes for patients and the healthcare delivery system. I welcome the improvements reported today, particularly the announcement that Ireland aims to soon join ECRIN. I look forward to seeing the benefits of the significant development of our clinical research infrastructures realised over the coming years and to the collaboration with all stakeholders required to make this a reality.”

Deirdre Glenn, Director Lifesciences and Food Commercialisation, Enterprise Ireland said: “Enterprise Ireland is a dedicated partner of the HRB-CRCI, and we welcome the continuing increase in the number of clinical trial sites in Ireland. It’s crucial in the current Brexit environment to leverage our unique commercial offerings, such as international clinical collaborations, and support companies with global ambition to scale internationally and diversify into new markets. The Irish life sciences and medtech sector is a strong exporter with a highly skilled workforce. By working closely with the HRB-CRCI these companies can efficiently access Ireland’s improving national clinical research system enabling them to develop innovative, world class products and technologies in Ireland.”

All numbers quoted relate to clinical trials and trial sites that are supported by the CRF/C’s and HRB-CRCI and do not include those which are separately supported by Cancer Trials Ireland.

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