Scotland has a key role to play in clinical trials

Scientists and clinicians across Scotland and the rest of the UK rose to the challenge of discovering, developing and getting licenses for vaccines and treatments for Covid-19, and they did it in weeks and months rather than years and decades.

With 68 commercial Covid-19 clinical trials initiated in 2020 alone, the UK was only behind the United States and Brazil on the global trials leaderboard.

However, the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry’s annual clinical research report shows the pandemic impacted research into many other diseases, including cancer, heart disease and diabetes.

This all matters because funding for commercial clinical research in Scotland is inward investment to Scotland.

More importantly, clinical trials are good for patients. People on trials demonstrate better outcomes – even if they are in a control group that doesn’t get the new treatment.

Hundreds of medicines and treatments are in development, including a wave of precision medicines that address the genetic root causes of diseases.

Each will undergo extensive trials and Scotland is competing to be given the opportunity to enrol patients in these global studies.

To compete, Scotland needs to be able to unlock its healthcare data. Scotland has the data – lots of information is collected on every Scot throughout their life and health journey.

Now Scotland needs to create a national NHS data infrastructure that joins together all the anonymised patient data currently sitting in regional safe havens; while patients themselves need to be able to feed in their own information from their smartphones – all backed by the right privacy safeguards, security and regulation.

The rest is about people. First, making sure we have the right people with digital skills employed in the NHS to allow clinicians to focus on patients. Second, engaging the public so people can see and trust how their data can help them, and others, enjoy better health outcomes.

And third, Scotland’s government and NHS leaders need to drive all this forward at pace because Scotland can’t do this slowly when everyone else is doing it quickly.

Scotland’s business and enterprise minister, Ivan McKee, says the smart application of data could be worth £20 billion to Scotland’s economy.

And, as the economy benefits, so too will patients.

Partner Content in association with Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry Scotland