NI Clinical Research Conference – In Partnership with ABPI and Queens University Belfast – 18th May 2023

May 19, 2023

On Thursday 18th May 2023 the NI Clinical Research Conference was held at the Hilton Hotel, Belfast. The event was sponsored by the Association of British Pharmaceutical Industry, ABPI and organised in partnership with the NI Clinical Research Network and iREACH Health, Queens University Belfast to coincide with International Clinical Trials Day 2023.


The Conference was opened by NI Chief Scientific Officer, Professor Ian Young who highlighted that a successful economy needs  a successful healthcare system and that is only possible through successful clinical research.


The keynote speaker was Professor Chris Butler, Professor of Primary Care at Oxford University. Prof Butler highlighted the need for Innovative trial design and delivery, building on the success of the PANORAMIC Trial. He thanked the NI Clinical Research Network, Primary Care team on PANORAMIC’s success in NI, Professor Nigel Hart, Dr Dan Butler and Clinical Research Lead Claire Leathem were in attendance. Prof Butler finished by stating, “Primary Care research must be embedded, mandated, regulated and resourced.”


The next session, The Art of Communicating Clinical Research was facilitated by Emer Maguire a Science Communicator, presenter and comedian. Emer highlighted how crucial good communication is for teamwork and managed to thoroughly entertain all 150+ attendees while getting everyone thinking about their own style of communication and how it could be improved.


The first panel of the day was chaired by NI Clinical Research Director, Professor Jonathan Jackson and the topic was, Incorporating research into routine practice. Prof Jackson was joined on the panel by:

Dr Daniel Butler, GP and co-investigator for the PANORAMIC trial

Dr Ikhlas El Karim, Clinical reader and Consultant in restorative dentistry

Dr Padraig Mulholland, Lecturer in Optometry, University of Ulster

Dr Inder Mainie, Consultant Gastroenterologist, Belfast Trust

Ms Margaret Grayson, Chair of NCI/CRUK Cancer Grand Challenges Advocacy Panel


Each panellist highlighted the potential for research in NI e.g. small, under researched population and the current challenges e.g. resourcing, regulations, governance. Ms Grayson highlighted why research in important for patients and why we should focus on communication and getting the “Good News” out there.


The panel closed with a Q&A session which highlighted the need for research targets and KPI’s for NI and the importance of sharing our successes through our research data.


The next research panel was chaired by Professor Nigel Hart, Clinical lecturer in Primary Care and NI Clinical Research Network Primary Care Lead, the topic was, Clinical Trials Barriers and Enablers. Prof Hart was joined on the panel by:

Professor Judy Bradley, Director of the NI Clinical Research Facility and iREACH Health


Dr Jon Silversides, Consultant in Critical Care & Anaesthesia, BHSCT and Clinical Senior Lecturer in Critical Care at QUB


Dr Janice Baillie, Assistant Director of HSC R&D Division, Public Health Agency


Ms Bernie Pearson, Head of HSC R&D Governance, HSC R&D Division of Public Health Agency.


Prof Bradley discussed the exciting plans for the £50 million iREACH project, Dr Silversides highlighted the barriers at hospital level, Dr Baillie explained that NI receives much lower funding for research compared to our counterparts in NHS England and Ms Pearson stated how changes from the National Contract Value Review will expedite research timelines allowing NI to be more competitive in the UK, Europe and beyond.


Next on the agenda was a panel on, Promoting Northern Ireland as an effective and efficient melting pot for clinical trials., chaired by Professor Stuart Elborn, Provost and Deputy Vice-Chancellor, QUB. Prof Elborn was joined on the panel by:

Professor Mark Lawlor, Associate Pro-Vice-Chancellor and Professor of Digital Health, QUB

Mr Tony Bowden, CEO of Helicon Health

Professor Alex Miras, Professor of medicine and leading obesity expert, University of Ulster


Prof Lawlor began by stating, “Research is not a luxury, it is an intrical part of healthcare.” Mr Bowden emphasised the importance of data and Prof Elborn added, “Data is the electricity of our generation.” Prof Miras focused on the potential of scale/growth in NI.

Funding was again highlighted as a barrier and Prof Miras emphasised the need for clinicians to have protected research time and for any income generated from research in NI to go to the research teams to develop our people and their skills.


The final panel of the day was chaired by HSC Senior Industry Manager Mr Barry Henderson and focused on Clinical Research as an Opportunity for Growth in NI. Panellist’s were:


Ms Marie-Andree Gamache, UK Country President for Novartis Pharmaceuticals

Mr Oliver Buckley-Mellor, Research Policy Manager, ABPI


This panel highlighted the decline in clinical research recruitment in NI and the rest of the UK since Covid-19. Issues raised were the length of time it takes to set-up a study, as much as 247 days and how to help make NI/UK as attractive as other European countries for commercial clinical research trials.


The end of conference speaker was Professor Mike Clarke, Director of the NI Clinical Trials Unit and NI Methodology Hub. Prof Clarke highlighted the positive effects of good quality research on healthcare and patients. He emphasised that “research cannot just be an add-on, it should not place a burden on the HSCNI, it should ease the pressures we’re facing by finding effective and efficient solutions.” This marked the end of a wonderful, informative day for all research colleagues across NI who attended.

Written by Emma Byrne