pharmacist largeThe region’s very first clinical research pharmacist has been appointed to run NHS-approved clinical trials in GP surgeries, drawing on his medicines expertise to improve patient healthcare.

University of Sunderland graduate and pharmacy lecturer Andrew Sturrock has begun his new role with Northumberland-based Coquet Medical Group; setting up National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) approved clinical trials, NIHR being the research arm of the NHS.

While GP practices have been participating in clinical trials, with nurses, practice managers and GPs recruiting patients and delivering interventions, from taking a simple blood sample to administering a questionnaire, they haven’t had the expertise of a medicines on site, assessing the suitability of patients to take part in trials.

Scott Wilkes, GP Principal in Coquet Medical Group and Professor of General Practice and Primary Care at the University of Sunderland, said: “Andrew will be assessing those NIHR clinical trials in the North East and Cumbria network, identifying which patients meet the criteria, then meeting with the patients to discuss their potential involvement in the trial.

“There are many questions you will get asked by patients going for clinical trials, such as ‘what does this mean for the medicines I currently take?’, ‘what if I stop this medication?’, ‘what’s a placebo?’, ‘should I still be taking this medication?’. The advantage of having Andrew on site is he wears three different hats; academic, clinical and pharmacist, therefore he has the ability to answer all of these questions, and his background has made him the perfect candidate for the role.

“We believe this role is the first of its kind in the country and is breaking new ground, hopefully the role will grow and be rolled out to other NIHR network sites as a successful model.”

It’s also hoped Andrew will offer the North East and Cumbria network its first opportunity to run a Clinical Trial of an Investigational Medicinal Product (CTIMP) in General Practices, which looks at the safety or efficacy of a medicine, foodstuff or placebo in humans.

Andrew who graduated from his pharmacy degree in 2007, spent two years as a clinical pharmacist at Gateshead’s Queen Elizabeth Hospital, six years as a community pharmacist in the North East, he also worked as a GP Practice Pharmacist before taking up a role as a full-time senior lecturer in Pharmacy Practice at the University of Sunderland in 2015.

He said: “I hope to eventually become an independent academic researcher myself, and I’m currently undertaking a Masters degree at Sunderland, therefore this new role offers me the opportunity to be at the cutting edge of clinical trials and is a fantastic experience. Hopefully I will be able to bring back all that knowledge to the students and teaching at the University.

“I will be drawing on all the experience I have had from my previous positions as a clinical, community and GP practice pharmacist to run these trials.”

Already Andrew, from North Tyneside, is making an impact on health in the region, with his first study, identifying and recruiting suitable patients. Looking at those with Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes and assessing genetic and environmental factors which contribute to the development of the disease. Eventually the data gathered from this study, analysing blood and urine tests, and putting together a genetic profile, could potentially be used for developing new diagnostic tools or treatments in future.

Andrew commented: “The role of the pharmacist has dramatically changed, there has been a big push in recent years to get clinical pharmacists into General Practice, but there has been little movement to incorporate research into this role. If we can demonstrate the success of the research pharmacist’s role, then there’s no reason why the model can’t be rolled out nationally.”