A research network of vital importance for the rapid initiation of Covid-19 trials in patients

A unique collaboration between Norway’s regional health authorities has contributed to a record-quick start-up of clinical trials in Covid-19 patients. This is historic! Norway is at the forefront of including patients in research, and at St. Olav’s Hospital in Trondheim the first patients have now received experimental treatment as part of an international trial.

A research network consisting of all university hospitals in Norway contributed greatly to the record-quick start-up of the World Health Organization’s (WHO’s) Solidarity Covid-19 trial, in just three weeks. The partners involved in the national research infrastructure body NorCRIN have thus been key in ensuring that Norway is at the forefront of clinical research in Covid-19 patients. NorCRIN’s partners assist with quality assurance of this WHO trial, which involves almost 30 hospitals around the country. On behalf of the Norwegian Directorate of Health, and in collaboration with NorCRIN, Central Norway Regional Health Authority has also organised and facilitated the coordination of all Covid-19 clinical trials in Norway. A national overview has been drawn up of all ongoing and planned clinical trials in Covid-19 patients, in record time.
“This list currently includes 75 trials, and it is being updated constantly,” reports Professor Knut Hagen, Project Manager at NorCRIN. “The objective is to ensure good cooperation and coordination between the trial locations, which will provide larger patient groups and hence more secure results. In addition, it allows the inclusion of patients from various health regions, which WHO’s Solidarity trial is an example of.”

Research in patients is always important for developing new medicinal products, using new technology in medical devices and improving clinical procedures. This is research that takes a long time, and – especially when it comes to medication – it is preceded by long processes of laboratory experiments and studies on animals.
“You can normally expect it to take 10 to 15 years to take a researcher’s idea for a new drug and make it available to patients,” says Sigrun K. Sæther, Head of the NorCRIN Secretariat. She also emphasises that clinical trials can be considered to be supplementary to current treatment options, and that they can give patients the opportunity to receive treatment that is not currently available in Norway. This can be extremely valuable in the battle against Covid-19, for which we currently lack effective treatment. Clinical research will also be central to the development of an effective vaccine against the disease.

In these extraordinary coronavirus times, when the time pressure is considerable, it has become especially clear that it is vital to have an effective national research support network that can assist researchers and be a provider of procedures and templates for clinical research. These are tools that have national and international regulations built in, and that have been created as a result of thorough processes within an expert professional environment. In this way, NorCRIN helps to strengthen the competence of researchers and support staff, and enables them to carry out high-quality trials efficiently.
“Together with the establishment of rapid treatment and approval of trials by medicines agencies and ethical review bodies, this type of national network in Norway or other countries may be crucial in meeting the expectation that we may have a Covid-19 vaccine available within one to two years,” say Hagen and Sæther.

For further information, please contact:
• Professor and NorCRIN Project Manager Knut Hagen, St. Olav’s Hospital,
mobile: (+47) 954 01 579, e-mail: knut.hagen@stolav.no
• Head of NorCRIN Secretariat Sigrun K. Sæther, St. Olav’s Hospital,
mobile: (+47) 920 47 825, e-mail: sigrun.kristine.sether@stolav.no

NorCRIN, which aims to strengthen and simplify collaboration within clinical research in Norway, is a national research infrastructure body established in 2012 on behalf of the Norwegian Ministry of Health and Care Services. All of the country’s six university hospitals are partners, and the Secretariat is based at St. Olav’s Hospital in Trondheim. In connection with the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, Central Norway Regional Health Authority was commissioned to coordinate clinical trials, and before Easter the NorCRIN Secretariat drew up a summary of all Covid-19 clinical trials in Norway. This list currently includes 75 trials, and the summary has formed the basis for a unique collaboration between the regional health authorities. This contributed to a record-fast start-up of the WHO trial Solidarity in Norway, in which the first patients are now included at St. Olav’s Hospital.