31st January 2024

Antimicrobial stewardship research is a space where pharmacy professionals (pharmacists and pharmacy technicians) can be involved at all levels of research leadership, planning and delivery. Pharmacists have expert knowledge of medicines and are supported by pharmacy technicians who ensure medication is supplied and used effectively. In terms of clinical trials, both are involved primarily in secondary care clinical trial units and may undertake roles, such as ensuring adherence to research protocols, and the safe and effective use of Investigational Medicinal Products (IMP).

Andrea, Puvan, Radwa and Michelle discuss why pharmacy professionals should consider getting involved with clinical research, with a key example of the BioDrive AFS trial. This is a Phase III multicentre trial evaluating the efficacy of a biomarker-driven antifungal stewardship (AFS) strategy versus prophylactic antifungal / Standard of Care in adults undergoing intensive chemotherapy for Acute Myeloid Leukaemia, Acute Lymphoblastic Leukaemia, or High-Risk Myelodysplastic Syndrome.

In the core trial team, one of the senior trial unit researchers and co-investigator (CI) is a pharmacist and was involved in designing the trial and managing its delivery. A CI academic pharmacist contributes to the trial management group interfacing with pharmacy and medicines management activities. A third pharmacist acts as an important link between the trial team and BSAC, professional partners supporting trial engagement and dissemination activities. And a fourth pharmacist, independent to the trial, sits on the data management and ethics committee. Arguably, such pharmacist research activity has been underappreciated to date.

The National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) Associate Principal Investigator (API) scheme is open to pharmacy professionals supporting clinical trials.  There are opportunities for others as part of the BioDrive AFS trial to be site Principal Investigators (PIs) or APIs. As APIs, pharmacists can lead the trial’s local implementation, ensuring adherence to its design and overseeing the primary and secondary outcome measures. Pharmacists, with their expertise in medication management and antimicrobial stewardship, play a crucial role in handling antifungal exposure data and assessing related outcomes. Collaborating closely with a multidisciplinary team, including clinicians and researchers, pharmacists can contribute significantly to the trial’s success. By leading in the BioDrive AFS trial, pharmacists not only advance scientific knowledge but also showcase their leadership in optimising therapeutic strategies for patients undergoing intensive chemotherapy while minimising the risk of antimicrobial resistance.

Research is included as an element of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) Core Advanced Curriculum, within the four pillars of advanced practice, RPS Advanced Pharmacy Framework and the RPS Consultant Pharmacist Curriculum.  Alongside these, nine e-learning modules have been developed by the RPS funded by the NIHR. These enable pharmacy professionals to develop their knowledge and skills in research; learning various theoretical and practical elements, such as transforming ideas into research projects and proposals, research methods, and applying for funding.

Pharmacy has been identified as a key profession to be developed for research leadership roles by the NIHR via the Pharmacy Professionals Incubator.  This is an important development by the NIHR as a leading funder for research in the UK and sends a clear signal for other research funders to engage with ideas coming from pharmacy practice. There are also fellowships via the NIHR Academy, grants from the NIHR, and Pharmacy Research UK PhD Studentships. The NIHR Academy has a fellowship pathway targeted at practitioners , which would suit those wanting to remain in practice while developing a research career.  A key development has been the NIHR under-represented disciplines and specialism highlight notice under Research for Patient Benefit, which is open for all Allied Health Professionals. The highlight notice should circle back to pharmacy professionals in due course and support pharmacy professionals to apply collaboratively with colleagues. The NIHR Research Support Service is a good starting point to help potential investigators shape their research ideas.

Few would argue that pharmacy professionals are not essential multiskilled members of clinical teams across the UK NHS. Increased pharmacy involvement will almost certainly improve the capacity, delivery, and quality of clinical research in the UK.

Therefore, 2024 should be the year pharmacy professionals embrace these opportunities to do something different and get involved in research. BioDrive may be the very thing to help you ‘seize the day’.

You can read a longer version of this blog here.

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