A National Biobank for COVID-19 Research

The Minister for Health, Stephen Donnelly announced in August 2021 a €2 million investment in the National Irish COVID-19 Biobank (NICB) to advance high impact research into COVID-19 and inform future biobanking initiatives in other important health areas.

The NICB is an essential new component of Ireland’s response to COVID-19, which is being supported by the HRB at the request of the Department of Health. The NICB will ensure that COVID-19 samples and associated clinical data are collected in a coordinated and harmonised manner, and that researchers can access this material using a mechanism that complies with safety, quality, and other international best practices and standards. This will allow more opportunity for research and innovation to increase our understanding of COVID-19, inform new treatment and management strategies, improve health outcomes, and better prepare us for future emergencies.

Importantly, the NICB has the dual objective of both integrating future collection of COVID-19 samples/data and making them accessible for research, as well as maximising the integration of existing collections of COVID-19 samples/data. All samples and associated data within the NICB will be consented for research. It will be overseen by an appropriate Governance Board, and decisions taken on access will be published online to ensure transparency. Crucially, the NICB aims to strike the balance between research with the potential to improve the health of many, while protecting the rights, dignity and agency of individual research participants, as well as building and maintaining public trust. IPPOSI is a partner on the initiative and we look forward to our involvement in this key piece of infrastructure for high-quality COVID-19 research.

Funding Research & Innovation in response to the COVID-19 Outbreak

As part of the National Action Plan in response to COVID-19, a number of research and innovation calls have been rapidly created and released by a number of agencies and publicly-funded organisations:

  • Science Foundation Ireland (SFI), Enterprise Ireland (EI), and IDA Ireland launched a joint rapid-response call to fund research, development, and innovation activities that will deliver significant and timely impact for Ireland within the context of the current emergency. (Call remains open until further notice).  The first round of successful projects were announced on April 29th, 2020.
  • The second round of SFI funding was announced on Jun 30th, 2020. The second phase of this call will fund projects up to 14 months in duration that build scientific knowledge and develop novel solutions that have the potential to impact society and the economy in the short/medium term.  Applications were accepted in the following thematic areas:
    – Infection Prevention & Control
    – Understanding the Virus & Host Response
    – STEM-led Solutions for Stimulating & Sustaining Rapid Economic Recovery.
  • The second round of successful projects were announced on Sept 24th, 2020.
  • On Dec 21st, 2020, a further 39 projects were announced as being funded.
  • The Health Research Board (HRB) and the Irish Research Council (IRC) launched a HRB-IRC rapid response call focusing on the development of medical countermeasures, health service readiness, and social and political countermeasures to COVID-19.
  • A total of 26 successful projects were announced by HRB-IRC on April 29, 2020. Watch some project videos here or at https://tinyurl.com/yakbmubl

In addition, Health Innovation Hub Ireland (HIHI) is working with Enterprise Ireland to identify solutions (products, services, expertise) directly related to COVID-19 for the Irish healthcare system. If you have a solution, HIHI want to identify it in one location so that it can be reviewed by those who are looking for solutions- urgent and longer term. Please go here to find out more or fill out the form on this link.

The HSE’s National Library’s Summaries of Evidence are compilations of the latest research evidence and key reference information related to Covid-19. They are developed by the NHLKS Evidence team in response to questions received by healthcare professionals via our online evidence request form.Each Summary of Evidence contains a comprehensive representation of all available research evidence and key reference sources and provides collated information on a topic of interest, displayed in a way that it is easy to follow and understand. They aim at supporting healthcare professionals to make informed decisions. Click here to access.

On the 20th March 2020, The European Commission, the European Medicines Agency (EMA) and national Head of Medicines Agencies (HMA) have published new recommendations for sponsors on how to manage the conduct of clinical trials in the context of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.This guidance includes a harmonised set of recommendations, to ensure the utmost safety of trial participants across the European Union while preserving the quality of the data generated by the trials. Guidance document available here 

Latest Rapid Review of treatments for COVID-19

The COVID-19 Evidence Review Group for Medicines was established to support the HSE in managing the significant amount of information on treatments for COVID-19.  The Group has conducted a number of rapid evidence reviews on a number of different treatments including antivirals, hydroxychloroquine, intravenous immunoglobulin, among others.  The Rapid Evidence Reviews are updated frequently (1-2 weeks) depending on the topic of the review.

On April 7th, Access to Medicines Ireland held a live web conference that covered a wide range of topics related to COVID-19. Topics covered included ethical models for decision-making and triage, the importance of the patient voice in decision and policy-making, global supply chains, shifting drug development models, patents, and TRIPS Flexibilities. Opening remarks by  Ms. Emily O Reilly and the conference was moderated by Susan Mitchell. EUPATI Graduate & IPPOSI member, Jacqui Browne and IPPOSI Patient Graduate & member, Kay Curtin addressed the conference highlighting issue sfrom a patient perspective. You can read Kay’s speech here. Speakers included Prof Sam McConkey (Professor Infectious Diseases, RCSI), Prof Luke O’Neill (School of Immunology, TCD),Dr. Andrew Hill (University of Liverpool), Dr. Ellen ‘t Hoen (Medicine Law and Policy), Dr. Gaëlle Krikorian, (Médecins Sans Frontières, Doctors Without Borders), Mr. Darren O Rourke (TD and PhD Scholar), Mr. Diarmaid McDonald (Just Treatment) and Ms. Susi Geiger (AMI, Misfires UCD)

Ireland to take part in WHO COVID-19 Solidarity Trial 

On the 26th June 2020 outgoing Minister for Health, Simon Harris signed an Agreement on behalf of the Government of Ireland to enable Ireland’s participation in the WHO COVID-19 Solidarity Trial.  The WHO Solidarity Trial is an international collaboration amongst WHO and participating international member countries and researchers to evaluate potential COVID-19 treatments.

The Solidarity-Ireland Trial will be hosted by UCC and coordinated by HRB Clinical Research Coordination Ireland with the participation of the 6 main University-based Clinical Research Facilities and Centres and their affiliated hospitals. The objective is to establish the safety and effectiveness of potential treatments for Irish patients suffering from COVID-19. The Minister has announced funding of €2.4 million to support hospitals to recruit patients for the trial and the recruitment process has already started.

On April 11th, the Minister for Health announced the establishment of a temporary National Research Ethics Committee (NREC) for COVID-19 to deliver an expedited process for review for all COVID-19-related research studies.  The NREC COVID-19 will review all COVID-19-related studies that fall under the definition of health research as set out in the Health Research Regulations 2018 – which means that it will consider across  the full spectrum of human health research including basic research, translational research, clinical research, diagnostics and treatment, population health research,  social research, health services research and applied health policy research. The NREC will review applications for clinical trials (of medicinal products and devices) as well as all other research considered to be COVID-19-related.  Members of the committee include IPPOSI Board member Dr. Jean Saunders of University of Limerick.  Patient & Public Involvement (PPI) members of the committee are to be appointed shortly.