Staff at the Royal Free London (RFL) have been praised for their extraordinary contribution to life-saving research during one of the most challenging periods for the NHS. 

A record number of patients and staff were recruited to clinical trials at the RFL in the past year – with the trust leading the way on studies that have led to dramatically improved outcomes for patients with COVID-19.

During 2020, the trust undertook 56 COVID studies and a further four are underway so far in 2021. One drug study took just 10 days for the rigorous checks to be completed, allowing patients to be enrolled on to the trial and begin treatment without delay.

A total of 1,990 patients have so far been recruited to urgent public health COVID-19 studies - those considered the top priority for the country - with a further 1,335 recruited to other COVID-19 studies, including studies conceived and designed by RFL staff.

Among the trials to which RFL patients have been recruited is REMAP CAP, which demonstrated that the anti-inflammatory drugs tocilizumab and sarilumab, when given to critically-unwell patients requiring Intensive Care Unit level support reduced death rates by about a third and the number of days needing high-level support by ten days. The trust also participates in the on-going RECOVERY trial, which has already shown the benefits of an every-day steroid called dexamethasone. The drug cuts the risk of death by a third for patients on ventilators and by a fifth for those on oxygen.  This trial has also shown that the anti-inflammatory drug tocilizumab, when given to patients on the ward who require oxygen therapy and have high levels of inflammation can reduce the risk of dying and the risk of progressing to requiring intensive care support.  Almost 500 patients at Barnet Hospital and the Royal Free Hospital (RFH) have been recruited to the RECOVERY trial, making the RFL one of the leading recruiting trusts in the country.

Results from the Novavax COVID-19 vaccine trial, which included over 600 participants at the RFH, showed the vaccine was 89.3% effective in preventing infection. The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency could approve Novavax within weeks.

Dr Sanjay Bhagani who led many of the COVID trials at the RFH, said: “It is no exaggeration to say that research carried out at the trust has already contributed to saving thousands of lives worldwide. We can feel very proud of the strides made as a direct result of our work.”

Farhan Naim, director of research and development at the RFL, said: “The achievements of research teams at the Royal Free London are phenomenal.  The trust has been a leading recruiting site for many of the worldwide COVID-19 studies. This is testament to the hard work and commitment of our investigators and research staff who have prioritised research in the most challenging of conditions. The Royal Free London has shown that it is at the forefront of high impact COVID-19 research.”

Professor Derralynn Hughes, clinical director of research and development at the RFL, said: “COVID-19 research carried out in our hospitals has delivered improved outcomes for our patients and patients across the world. I could not be prouder of our staff who have displayed unwavering dedication and compassion in this important work.” 

(Pic: A participant in the Novavax trial)