Professor Nick Lemoine played a crucial role in leading urgent public health research during the COVID-19 pandemic. As the director of the Barts Cancer Institute at Queen Mary University of London and the medical director for the National Institute for Health and Care Research Clinical Research Network, he was asked by Sir Chris Whitty, the Chief Medical Officer for the UK, to head up the urgent public health research response to COVID-19.
In March 2020, Professor Lemoine took on this role, which involved identifying, funding, and delivering key studies that would develop diagnostics, therapeutics, and vaccines for the virus. At that time, very little was known about the virus, and the challenge was immense. The instruction from the government was for the Clinical Research Network to focus entirely on COVID-related studies until the disease was overcome and the pandemic emergency was over.
To tackle this monumental task, Professor Lemoine established the Urgent Public Health Group, consisting of over 70 individuals. This group included clinical specialists in various fields, leaders of Public Health England (now the UK Health Security Agency), representatives from NHS organizations, devolved administrations, and patient representatives. It was crucial to have a diverse range of expertise and perspectives to address the research questions and meet the needs of the population.
The Urgent Public Health Group met three times a week, often in the evenings, to discuss and strategize. The workload was immense, and they even met on Easter Sunday in 2020 to address the pressing research questions. The pressure was high, and the responsibility was enormous. Professor Lemoine described it as being in a war room, with specialists involved in frontline care for COVID patients.
Despite the challenges, Professor Lemoine and his team made significant progress. Discoveries were made, vaccines were trialed, and existing drugs were repurposed to treat the disease. In the first year alone, their efforts saved 22,000 lives in the UK and a million worldwide. The impact of their work cannot be overstated.
In conclusion, Professor Nick Lemoine played a vital role in leading urgent public health research during the COVID-19 pandemic. His expertise, leadership, and dedication were instrumental in identifying, funding, and delivering key studies that contributed to the development of diagnostics, therapeutics, and vaccines. His work, along with the efforts of the Urgent Public Health Group, saved countless lives and helped navigate the unknown territory of the pandemic. Professor Lemoine’s contributions will have a lasting impact on public health and the fight against COVID-19.