In the last three years 30 per cent of global multi-centre commercial studies supported by the NIHR Medicines for Children Research Network (MCRN) have recruited their first patient in the UK.
First global patient is a key performance indicator for the life-sciences industry, demonstrating that resident research infrastructure can support the rapid set-up of research studies.
In their first fully operational year in 2006-7, Medicines for Children adopted only four paediatric commercial studies. In 2011-12 they adopted 55 - a more than ten-fold increase.
Dr William van't Hoff is Co-Director of the Medicines for Children Research Network. He believes the Network has played an important role in facilitating an increasingly dynamic paediatric research environment:
"When the MCRN was established in 2005, paediatricians had little experience of supporting life-sciences industry studies, but we've worked hard to promote the benefits of commercial research, for children, clinicians and the NHS. Many children and families have signed-up to research of new medicines and a large number of clinicians are now participating in commercial studies. MCRN has developed access for research to children and doctors throughout the country and is working with all partners to improve the delivery of studies in the UK."
MCRN's successes have been delivered in a broad range of fields, from inherited metabolic disorders to allergy and from neuroscience to neonatal care. And they have been secured at a range of sites, including tertiary centres with Clinical Research Facilities and district general hospitals.
Changes to the UK's research culture have been facilitated by improved infrastructure. Dr Andrew Rose, MCRN Deputy Assistant Director, says:
"These results show our research infrastructure has made great progress and we can now compete with the best in the world in terms of the speed of study set-up."
One of the companies to have secured a global first patient with the support of the Network is Roche Pharmaceuticals. Their UK Country Clinical Operations Head, Steve Thorne, feels the MCRN is making progress:
"The MCRN has got much better at developing relationships with the life-sciences industry. It definitely feels like we are working together to improve the environment for paediatric research and these results are a positive indicator of directional improvement and more efficient study set-up."
Dr Nick Webb is Director of the Wellcome Trust's Clinical Research Facility in Manchester and a children's kidney specialist at the Royal Manchester Children's Hospital. He believes the MCRN has had a significant impact on paediatric research delivery in the UK:
"The MCRN has transformed the UK's ability to deliver early and late phase children's research. It provides support that makes children's research happen and its Local Research Networks offer a performance management service for studies throughout England."
Since being established in 2006, the MCRN has supported over 300 studies and recruited over 25,000 children and young people to clinical research studies. Children and their families are at the heart of the Network, with six young people's advisory boards helping to demystify research and ensure studies are well designed and written in a language children understand.