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Positives from the pandemic: ‘It’s just great that we’re flying the flag for Wales and the north’

Dr Orod Osanlou, a consultant in clinical pharmacology and therapeutics and general internal medicine, is director of the North Wales Clinical Research Facility. In this blog, taken from our recent report on innovation in north Wales, Positives from the pandemic, he discusses how colleagues in Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board became involved in COVID-19 vaccine trials, raising the profile of their health board and building a new reputation for innovation and research. 

When the pandemic began, the whole of society had to adapt, including the NHS. We took a one Wales approach to the COVID-19 vaccine study. Being in north Wales, I was very keen that we should play a part; everything was set up phenomenally quickly. We had real engagement from BCUHB executive team in setting up the Novovax research trial, which we managed in eight days, and is the biggest study in terms of both financial income and participants that we’ve ever had in north Wales. It was a huge effort from the whole team, and we’ve even managed to over-recruit to some very competitive trials.

We’ve really upskilled our team. There were a lot of staff members who wanted to get involved in research but didn’t really know how to get started. It’s brilliant that we have had GPs get involved, some of whom are now ready to run large scale trials.

We’re also part of the COV-Boost vaccine trial, the first study in the world to look at boosters, designated by the UK government as the most important study in the world in 2021. There are various sub-studies, some of which we led from north Wales, informing into Welsh, UK and worldwide booster policy.

The experience has raised our profile, with television appearances and recognition from national organisations in Wales. It’s a really good news story for north Wales: we’ve built our reputation locally, regionally and nationally, which is fantastic – it’s good to have some success stories outside of south Wales.

My plan was always to set up a new clinical research facility. We did a lot of stakeholder engagement with academic institutions, NHS bodies, participants, patients and staff, and opened our doors in October 2021. We’re undertaking early phase clinical studies. You know, across north Wales and its bordering areas, there are around 1,000,000 people who don’t routinely have access to experimental medicines: patients often have to travel to Manchester or Cardiff which can be very difficult. We’re hoping to tackle this healthcare inequality, and we are considering a hub and spoke model to recruit patients from the English border areas, and as far over as Bangor which would be really exciting.

We started out in rented accommodation, but we quickly realised we need increased capacity. Following a £1.6 million business case, I’m hoping that in 2023, we can open a bespoke unit with state-of-the-art facilities, including laboratories, clinical sinks, ensuite side rooms, a participant relaxation room, resuscitation facilities, 24/7 temperature monitoring equipment, and 24/7 junior doctor on-call cover. We’re now taking part in a commercial phase one study which is a first for north Wales. There’s a new website and we’ve recruited two academic trial fellows who link us with Bangor University and the medical school. There’s a research pharmacist joining us soon, and we’re hoping to branch out into genomics studies.

We want to raise awareness and encourage people to get involved. North Wales has such huge potential. We’ve empowered staff to run studies independently, which will undoubtedly help with recruitment and retention of staff in BCUHB. It’s already helped us to develop a local, national and international reputation and I think it’s just great that we’re flying the flag for Wales and the north.

Dr Orod Osanlou
Director, North Wales Clinical Research Facility
Consultant in clinical pharmacology and therapeutics and general internal medicine
Senior clinical lecturer pharmacology/pharmacy, Bangor University