The lack of a world-class infrastructure for clinical research in Ireland contrasts sharply with the country’s status as one of the most desirable locations for pharmaceutical manufacturing, a new report notes.

“Ireland has lost its attractiveness for clinical research,” warns Dr Tracy Cunningham, medical director of GlaxoSmithKline and director of the Irish Platform for Patients’ Organisations, Science and Industry (IPPOSI). “Now, more than ever before, we need to ask why.”

IPPOSI’s report documents the discussions held and consensus reached at a conference last May in Dublin Castle on ‘Clinical Research Infrastructure in Ireland – Remaining Barriers, Potential Solutions’. The conference was organised by IPPOSI in association with the Irish Pharmaceutical Healthcare Association.

According to the IPPOSI report, the building blocks for a sound clinical research infrastructure in Ireland “seem to be in place, with huge investment in recent years”. Building blocks “are not enough, however”, it adds. Ireland also “needs to provide strong leadership for a clear national strategy that can remove the barriers and take advantage of the real opportunities that exist”.

One advance, notes Dr Ruth Barrington, IPPOSI director and chief executive officer of Molecular Medicine Ireland, is the clinical research centres developing in Belfast, Dublin, Cork and Galway with the help of significant funding from the Health Research Board and support from the Wellcome Trust.

All the same, Barrington noted, Ireland “has some way to go to network these centres as a force for major clinical studies, to streamline processes of ethical approval and to cultivate a culture of research in our hospitals”.

Among the report’s key recommendations are to:

- Standardise Ireland’s system of Ethical Review Committees
- Create formal career structures for health professionals interested in research, especially research nurses
- Integrate internationally accredited training in Good Clinical Practice into Irish medical and nursing education at all levels
- Introduce practical and standardised indemnity arrangements for clinical trials, in particular for non-commercial clinical research
- Make research a core value in healthcare
- Appoint a clinical research ‘supremo’ in the Department of Health and Children – along the lines of the UK’s director of National Health Service R&D – with the power to remove the existing roadblocks and to create and deliver a research strategy for health in Ireland

Dr Seamas Donnelly of University College Dublin has established a Think Tank on Clinical Research within IPPOSI to maintain the momentum of last year’s conference and to work together with stakeholders on the recommendations in the report.