Claim of Britain’s scientific superpower is ‘bullshit’, says Kate Bingham

The head of Britain’s successful Covid vaccine program has accused health officials of dismantling a critically important database, set up to help Covid vaccine trials, when it could be used to other vital medical research programs.

“All this talk of the UK becoming a serious science superpower is bullshit,” Dame Kate Bingham told the Observer. “These people don’t really care. If you really want to strengthen our clinical research, you don’t start dismantling what has been put in place.

Bingham’s dramatic outburst follows a decision by the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) to insist that volunteers who have already signed up for a national database of individuals willing to participating in medical research must now go through a complex, three-step verification process to reapply to remain in the program.

Bingham, who called the NIHR’s decision “ridiculous”, said the database was created in the spring of 2020 so that the UK had a pool of volunteers who were ready and waiting to be registered for trials once candidate Covid vaccines have been developed by researchers.

Kate Bingham on TV with a virus
Kate Bingham called the NIHR changes “ridiculous”. Photography: ITV/Rex

“We enrolled 550,000 people, and about 50,000 of them were then used in 18 different vaccine trials for seven different companies. So it was incredibly effective.

Importantly, when the program was established, a clause was added to ask volunteers who had signed up if they would also be willing to participate in medical trials that did not involve Covid research: 94% said that they would. “It has created an extremely valuable resource for the nation,” said Bingham, who has become a dame for her work leading Britain’s Covid vaccine task force.

The bureaucratic hurdles they had to overcome were huge, but “now the bureaucracy has taken over – he’s a motherfucker,” she added. “NIHR officials got back to everyone on the database, and told them they will have to re-enroll in a complex process that involves three separate steps and the exchange of verification emails.

“Only after that will previous volunteers be registered again.”

Bingham said she went through the re-enrollment process herself and found it cumbersome and unnecessary.

“It’s just a monumental way to lose a lot of people from the database,” she said.

“They had half a million people who were willing to participate in all kinds of medical research projects. But there’s no way they’re getting that number of people again. It’s a total mess. »

A managing partner at venture capital firm SV Health Investors, Bingham has been hailed for her work ensuring the UK is quickly supplied with sufficient doses of Covid vaccines amid the pandemic. However, she has since harshly criticized the civil service culture she experienced when asked to lead the UK vaccine task force.

“The problem is that officials are focused on the process and not the outcome,” she told the Observer. “There are easier ways to keep all those volunteers in the database without having to go through this complex re-registration. It’s simple: we should be investing in research infrastructure, not tearing it down.

In a speech last year, Bingham said there was “little relevant science and business experience in government, a culture of underperformance in delivering results, and a distrustful and often dysfunctional relationship between government and the bioscience industry”.

The issue was of particular concern today, Bingham added, as the UK was still “not off the hook” when it came to dealing with the Covid pandemic. Current vaccines don’t block transmission and they don’t offer protection for very long, she argued.

“We must continue to test and develop new formats and approaches, and prepare for new variations that may appear in the months and years to come. So why lose this group of people who have already said they would help. It just seems crazy.

The NIHR said it made the decision to create a new and better registry to help people with all conditions, and added that it was important that individuals be asked to give new consent for any new services. volunteer.

Claim of Britain’s scientific superpower is ‘bullshit’, says Kate Bingham

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