Research at University Hospitals Plymouth NHS Trust

University Hospitals Plymouth NHS Trust (UHPNT) is fast becoming a leading centre for medical research, enabling patients to have access to the latest technologies, treatments and care by world opinion leaders in their respective fields. The Trust has a research portfolio on average in excess of 500 studies attracting world renowned consultants and inspiring specialist registrars through training, education and participation to be the researchers of the future.

Research is a vital component of healthcare development, offering patients the opportunity to access tomorrow’s treatments today.  Thousands of people each year agree to take part in research studies, contributing to the development of potential new treatments and diagnostic aids before they are adopted across the National Health Service. The number of new studies delivered in the NHS continues to increase, and the number of patients engaged in research activity has hit an all-time high. We are proud to be one of the top 50 performing Acute Trusts committed to delivering clinical research to time and target.

To find out more about research opportunities at University Hospitals Plymouth NHS Trust either as a researcher or participant, ask your health care professional or contact the RD&I team today. 

Urgent call for 500 Plymouth volunteers to take part in a new Covid-19 vaccine study

Research Team

If anyone would like more information about the study, or are interested in signing up, please send an email to

Six thousand UK volunteers will from today (Monday 16 November) be called upon to join another leading phase three Covid-19 vaccine study, as researchers around the world continue to work to secure a range of vaccines to help tackle coronavirus.

The latest study, co-funded by the UK government’s Vaccine Taskforce, will test the safety and effectiveness of a new two-dose regimen for a vaccine candidate, developed by The Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson & Johnson. The study will recruit up to 30,000 people worldwide, with at least 500 people needed to take part at Plymouth’s Derriford Hospital.

Volunteers from a variety of age groups and backgrounds, including some of the thousands who have registered to be contacted about vaccine studies through the NHS Covid-19 Vaccine Research Registry, will begin taking part in the latest study at 17 National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) sites across the UK, including Plymouth, Southampton, Bristol, Cardiff, London, Leicester, Sheffield, Manchester, Dundee and Belfast. Recruitment into the study will complete in March 2021 and the study will last for 12 months.

The study will be run by researchers at University Hospitals Plymouth NHS Trust on the hospital grounds. Dr Claire Bethune, Consultant Immunologist at the Trust, will lead the study locally. She said, “This is a great opportunity for the people of Plymouth to contribute to the global effort against COVID-19. It`s likely that we will need a range of treatments to prevent COVID-19 : some may work better for different scenarios. Trials like this are key in unlocking these potentials.”

Dr Gary Minto, UHP`s Director of Research, Development and Innovation added, “It is typical of the Plymouth community that so many people have already come forward to help, standing with the University Hospitals Plymouth staff in the fight against the Coronavirus. Our Research, Development and Innovation team are going above and beyond in order to make this possible. We are also seeing a big contribution from our pharmacy and laboratory team and student nurses from the University of Plymouth are also volunteering to help.

It is important that people who are interested in participating are reassured that they will not be prevented from receiving a licenced COVID-19 vaccine should one become available during the course of the study.

If anyone would like more information about the study, or are interested in signing up, please send an email to"

To date, over 300,000 people have signed up to the NHS Covid-19 Vaccines Research Registry to take part in vital coronavirus vaccine studies. More than 1,300 people have signed up from Plymouth alone. With a range of vaccine types needed to ensure people across the UK have access to one that works for as many people as possible, researchers are calling for volunteers to continue to sign up to take part in clinical studies. With several more phase 3 studies for potential vaccine studies expected to start over the next six months, researchers are highlighting the need for volunteers from across the UK to continue to join the fight against coronavirus .

 Business Secretary Alok Sharma said:

 “The start of further clinical trials in the UK is yet another step forward in the race to discover a safe and effective vaccine, and comes alongside recent news that we could be on the cusp of the first major breakthrough since the pandemic began.

“While we are optimistic with the progress being made, there are no guarantees and it is possible there will be no one-size-fits-all vaccine. That is why it is absolutely vital that while our scientists are cracking on with the job, we continue to follow the guidance to control the virus, protect the NHS and save lives.”

The UK government has developed a portfolio of six different vaccine candidates and secured access to 350 million doses to date. Of this, an agreement has been made in principle to include 30 million doses of the Janssen vaccine will be made available to the UK if it is safe and effective.

Professor Saul Faust, Professor of Paediatric Immunology and Infectious Diseases, University of Southampton and Chief Investigator for the Janssen Phase 3 study, said: 

“Finding an effective vaccine with a good safety profile is a top priority in helping to protect us all more quickly against Covid-19. While the news of a potential vaccine is tremendously exciting, our ambition in the scientific community is to ensure we leave no stone unturned in the search for a solution to help end this pandemic. 

All the vaccines that are being trialled work by generating immune responses to the same part of the coronavirus as the RNA vaccine that has announced some interim early results.”

Chair of the Government’s Vaccine Taskforce, Kate Bingham said:

“The recent news about progress on the search for a vaccine is enormously exciting for the whole world, but we must not take our focus off continuing the important research to work out which vaccines work best for different people to provide long lasting, effective protection against Covid-19.

“Many vaccines are needed both here in the UK, and globally, to ensure we can provide a safe and effective vaccine for the whole population. That is why the launch of this trial to establish the safety, effectiveness, and very importantly the durability, of the Janssen vaccine is so significant, and I would continue to encourage people to sign up and take part in vaccine trials. 

By co-funding this study we are helping generate data for future regulatory submissions internationally as well as for the UK." 

The UK public can support the national effort to speed up vaccine research and receive more information about volunteering for clinical studies by visiting to join the NHS Covid-19 Vaccine Research Registry. 

The Registry was launched by the government in partnership with the NIHR, NHS Digital, the Scottish and Welsh governments and the Northern Ireland Executive in July. It aims to help create a database of people who consent to be contacted by the NHS to take part in clinical studies, to help speed up the development of a safe and effective vaccine.


£2.5 million to study group treatment programme for people with severe obesity

A team of researchers based in the Westcountry has been awarded nearly £2.5 million from the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR).

The researchers at the University of Exeter Medical School and the University of Plymouth will work with the NHS, patients, the NIHR Applied Research Collaboration South West Peninsula (PenARC), and the  Peninsula Clinical Trials Unit (PenCTU)*, to investigate whether an intensive group-based behavioural programme called PROGROUP is less costly and more effective than usual care for people with severe obesity, and can save money.

The research involves the Plymouth and West Devon Weight Management Service which is provided by Livewell Southwest Community Interest Company, and has been sponsored by University Hospitals Plymouth NHS Trust.

It comes at a time when supporting people to lose weight in a healthy way is a national priority, in light of the link between obesity and severe COVID-19. This means that services supporting people with severe obesity for weight loss are having to be comprehensively redesigned to maintain social distancing, with far greater emphasis on online and virtual delivery.   

Jonathan Pinkney, Professor of Endocrinology and Diabetes at University Hospitals Plymouth and the University of Plymouth, co-leads the study. He explained: “Obesity is one of the most serious public health challenges of our time, and is a particular concern in the era of COVID-19. A staggering 15 million adults in the UK are now obese. However, around five million of these are severely obese and 1.5 million middle-aged adults are extremely obese. While severe obesity was unusual a generation ago, over the course of a few decades it has become  commonplace, and it is significantly more frequent in deprived communities and minority groups. Obesity is a very sensitive issue, and it has long been a neglected in both research and healthcare. This research seeks to improve treatment and offer hope for people with the more severe forms of obesity.”

Severe obesity reduces life expectancy substantially due to the development of complications such as diabetes, heart disease and cancer. Yet this knowledge has ben poorly recognised in society and healthcare systems. People with severe obesity also experience significant detriments to their quality of life and opportunities. It has also recently become known that carrying excess weight significantly increases the risks of dying from COVID-19, particularly for people with severe obesity. Indeed, weight loss may be the main potentially “reversible” risk factor for mortality from COVID-19. One potential treatment option that people with severe obesity could choose is weight-loss surgery, but few people opt for this, and other treatment options are currently uncertain. There is a major need to develop more effective treatment options. 

Dr Mark Tarrant, of the University of Exeter Medical School, who co-leads the study, said: “At the moment, treatment for severe obesity varies greatly across the country. How effective NHS services are is unclear. This research will aim to develop best practice for group-based treatment within these services.  The goal is to find the best way to optimise the group-based treatment of people with severe obesity. We know that obesity is linked to a wide range of health problems, yet there’s very little consistency in how people are treated, or evidence about what’s effective. The aim is to develop a gold standard for effective group-based care that can be rolled out across the country.”

The PROGROUP study which also involves the University of Liverpool,  will test a new group programme which uniquely aims to establish a strong sense of connectedness between people. The programme willthen build on these links to support people in making and sustaining lifestyle changes necessary for weight loss and improved wellbeing. The programme was developed by the research team and builds upon the programme provided by Plymouth and West Devon weight management service,  as well as research and evidence from the behavioural and psychological sciences. The programme wil last for 6 months, with 20 group sessions, supported by several one-to-one patient meetings.

Dr Gary Minto, Director of Research and Development at University Hospitals Plymouth said: “We are delighted that the PROGROUP team , led from Plymouth and Exeter has received this substantial NIHR funding. This trial tests a group-based approach to behaviour change to help patients address obesity and reduce future illnesses related to lifestyle - tremendously important to economically disadvantaged communities in our locality.”

The initial study will see 120 people randomly allocated at three clinics nationwide, receiving weight management services with or without the new treatment programme. If successful, the study will move to a larger trial, involving 1,100 people from a wide range of communities at ten different sites across the UK, which will be centrally coordinated by PenCTU, part of the University of Plymouth,and fully registered with the UK Clinical Research Collaboration.

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