The Institute for Clinical Research has been “rethinking who we are as an organisation” following what board chair Janette Benaddi says was probably “one of the most challenging” years ever for the ICR in 2009.

That has necessitated “very many necessary and radical changes”, driven largely by the recession but also by member needs, Benaddi told the ICR 31st Annual Conference and Exhibition in London last month.

The UK-based organisation will need to continue adapting in a fluid global environment for clinical trials, Benaddi warned. But the ICR’s core aim is still to help its members with career development, raise standards and spread knowledge – “a professional organisation for professional people”.

The organisation brought in external consultants to help it review how best the ICR could be structured to ride out a difficult period, Benaddi told PharmaTimes Clinical News. The “radical changes” mentioned have only just started coming into effect, but they are essentially about diverting resources from marketing into membership services.

That has to be the ICR’s prime objective, Benaddi stressed. So while it is putting more effort into training and professional development, the focus remains on being a membership rather than a training organisation.

The ICR has also been raising its political profile in recent years, as exemplified by the appointment of Lord Howe as the Institute’s first president in October 2008. There have been opportunities to debate a number of questions related to clinical research in Parliament and the ICR will be hosting an event in the House of Lords later this year, noted Benaddi, who believes the membership voice is now “getting up to the right levels”.

As for the general clinical research environment in the UK and the diversion of trials to emerging markets, the key is to understand the blockages in the R&D process and what can be done about them, Benaddi commented.

The UK has already “come a long way” in areas such as Research Ethics Comittee approvals, she pointed out. And while NHS R&D departments tend to bear the brunt of the criticism about over-zealous bureaucracy, lack of consistency or failure to nurture a research culture, “some of them are fantastic”, Benaddi insisted, adding that R&D departments are subject to a lot of constraints in terms of risk assessment.

Despite these problems, there is still a healthy demand for clinical research careers, she told PharmaTimes Clinical News. That includes regular job applications from graduates, even though Benaddi acknowledges the first step on the ladder is often the most difficult one and that the ICR probably needs to do more to encourage interest at university level. This year’s delegate list included 20 students who attended a career development session at the London conference.

If the ICR had to do some soul-searching during 2009 to re-assess its priorities in a difficult economic environment, this year it will continue to review where its energies are best directed. The Institute wants to be proactive in meeting member requirements as quickly as possible, Benaddi noted, so in 2010 there will be more focus on going out and talking to the membership.

At the same time, the ICR is keen to widen its scope outside the national borders. The Institute has always talked about being more European, Benaddi observed. Accordingly, it will look this year at forging better alliances and partnerships with similar organisations in other countries, with the aim of developing cross-border clinical research processes.