I hope you have had a good Easter weekend.
There have been three health research stories in the last week that have caught my attention. Each story is significant in its own right. But they also share a common theme around the importance of public participation in research.
First up is the research published by King’s College London in the American Journal of Psychiatry looking at the long-term effects of childhood bullying, It uses data from the British National Child Development Study funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) to show that the detrimental effects of bullying last well into middle age. The participants in the study are 17000+ individuals who were born in one week in 1958 and have been followed over time.
I noted that someone posted a comment on a news site saying ‘why the research, isn’t it obvious?’ Maybe.
But as someone whose adult life has been coloured by what happened all those years ago at secondary school, I am delighted that they have opened up the discussion about this important issue using such strong evidence. Also, to see so many voices comment on the need to step up preventative work in our schools, communities and online.
It proves the importance of this sort of birth cohort study to understanding more about health and well-being and how it changes over the decades. The point yet to prove in this case is how to turn such evidence into practical interventions. Anyway, call it bias, but I happen to think it deserves billing over my next chosen story.
This is the news that Cancer Research UK, Astra Zeneca, Pfizer are moving to the next phase of their Stratified Medicines Programme started in 2011 which involves screening all lung cancer patients for genetic markers to determine which of as many as 14 different new drugs might help. It’s called the National Lung Matrix Trial in what sounds like a Hollywood blockbuster.
This is far-removed from how pharma companies used to work; searching for blockbuster drugs in the manner of someone looking for the Holy Grail. The partners are looking to test sharper, more precise instruments. The trials are more complex and often involve fewer participants. The collaboration is wider and more collegiate. Where it has a point to prove is in the extent to which the NHS is fit-for-purpose to make this sort of trial work not just in cancer but in other diseases too.
That’s also the point of the third story I wanted to highlight. Every year, ahead of its annual dinner, the Association of British Pharmaceutical Industries (ABPI) publishes some sort of (frankly unreadable) report about what it believes is the dismal state of UK research. To be fair, its report this year – ‘Mind the Gap’ – about the state of readiness in the UK to develop ‘personalised medicines’ is a bit more interesting and balanced than usual.
But why do I sense some sort of whispered, almost pitying voice reading the words when it comes to the sections noting the on-going difficulties in recruiting people to clinical trials. But also the complete absence of thought or consideration to patients and the public as possible partners in devising solutions, not least by involving them in research design and delivery. As had been shown time and again across our clinical research networks. It’s the perennial blind-spot for industry.
They have much still to prove.