How the Pandemic affected us:
When the pandemic hit, we responded, moving faster than ever before. All non-critical research portfolio studies and BioResource activities were suspended. Our team redeployed to Southampton’s contributions to the huge national research effort. That saw them switch to a seven day shift pattern to meet demand, working long hours to meet changing priorities.
Key activities supported through this redeployment included:
- Cutting COVID-19 diagnosis times from over 21 hours to 1 hour 40min. (Point of care COVID-19 tests can reduce transmission in hospitals (uhs.nhs.uk))
- Delivery of over 16 COVID-19 vaccine trials. This included data underpinning emergency licensing of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine. (Southampton volunteers help demonstrate up to 90% protection from Oxford COVID-19 vaccine (uhs.nhs.uk))
- Rapid repurposing of an antiviral lung therapy to treat COVID-19. (COVID-19 antiviral drug shown to be effective against variants (uhs.nhs.uk)).
- Fast tracking COVID-19 drugs into large scale trials. (Fast tracking COVID-19 drugs into large scale trials (nihr.ac.uk))
In addition, our BioResource centre team began work to open the COVID BioResource in Southampton. That was achieved in just six weeks, opening in June 2020. Intensive work went into ensuring COVID-19 sample storage compliance with our HTA licence. This was critical due to the NIHR National Biosample Centre at Milton Keynes becoming a ‘Lighthouse’ testing laboratory.
As pandemic pressures eased, and more studies restarted, our centre pivoted again. We reopened rare disease BioResource cohorts in September, and all others by October. We have continued building up BioResource recruitment as more research studies open.
The pandemic experience has shown our responsiveness and the value of our expertise. That flexibility contributed to Southampton’s wider research resilience and response. In turn, our redeployments gave us insight into frontline study delivery. We will use that in improving BioResource support to studies. We will also be exploring how ideas generated by the pandemic might enhance our work. These include remote consenting and greater use of digital tools for engaging study and clinical teams.
Looking to the future:
NIHR BioResource is open and recruiting again to all arms, including Rare Diseases. It is also recruiting to the COVID BioResource. We hope to recruit volunteers taking part in all the current vaccine trials at Southampton’s vaccine hub as well as restart face-to-face clinics.
We are investigating remote consenting options to aid recruitment and hope to be able to promote the BioResource at events when national restrictions are removed.