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Driving research through clinical research collaboratives

Allyson Arnold, chief operating officer of the British Heart Foundation Clinical Research Collaborative, explains why this model can spur cardiovascular clinical research – and how clinicians can become involved.

The BHF Clinical Research Collaborative (BHF CRC), hosted by the British Cardiovascular Society,  launched in June 2019 and aims to support the planning of high-quality national cardiovascular research by bringing together cardiovascular professional societies, research groups and patient and public involvement to better coordinate and prioritise clinical research efforts.

As the clinical trial landscape becomes increasingly complex, broader collaborations are required to define and implement common approaches that make planning and delivery clinical research trials easier and more effective. To facilitate this, collaboration is necessary at the start of the research pipeline, when ideas are formed, and research questions are prioritised.  The COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on research funding, which means focusing on the right questions is more important than ever, as many funders are spending on fewer but larger and more impactful research studies.

By uniting clinical research through the cardiovascular professional societies, the BHF CRC seeks to help join up work to identify and prioritise the most important clinical questions and bring researchers together nationwide to develop robust study proposals to answer these questions. 

Our strategy sets out three key goals:
1) Promote and coordinate the planning and delivery of research.
2) Add value by providing solutions to problems faced by our stakeholders.
3) Engage the broader research community.

The initiative hopes to encourage more clinicians to be involved in research as part of their roles, and increase the participation of patients living with cardiovascular disease in research. Clinical research led by healthcare professionals benefits both patient and professional wellbeing.

We work through the cardiac specialist societies to ensure a broad range of professional representation. We are supporting the development of clinical research groups within the specialist societies, as these groups fully understand their specialty area and can engage and influence future research priorities. Research groups bring people together, which is hugely beneficial, as they allow researchers to have a conversation, share ideas and work out how they can develop and implement their ideas.

We provide added value by offering a state of the art, online collaborative platform where researchers can network virtually on any device from anywhere. Based on a Microsoft Office 365 environment, it uses familiar programmes like Microsoft Teams to provide our research groups with a digital workspace to discuss potential research projects and share information and learning. Our vision is for people to use this platform to share ideas and highlight if someone has a similar project. The BHF CRC also facilitates meetings and workshops that help researchers working in collaboration to set research priorities.

Providing a digital collaborative workspace for research groups has paid dividends during the current climate, as it has meant that we have been able to maintain momentum and meet more often without the commitments of travel and the struggle to coordinate diaries. Clinical researchers are now able to meet any time, in any place, to enable them to get the most out of the small percentage of time that is allocated to research alongside our members’ various clinical commitments.

The BHF CRC’s core values are centred around inclusivity and diversity in research, with the aim of truly democratising research. Collaborating with other researchers who have similar ideas will help to get the most value out of research, avoid duplication, ensure greater patient participation and offer a joined-up approach to promote the wider benefits of cardiovascular clinical research activity in the UK. 

We encourage RCP members and other clinicians to contact the BHF CRC by sending an email to   enquiries@bhfcrc.org for more information on our initiative or to share knowledge and ideas on collaborating in clinical research.