The partnership of patient advocacy groups and clinical investigators in the rare diseases clinical research network

By Peter A. Merkel, Michele Manion, Rashmi Gopal-Srivastava, Stephen Groft, H. A. Jinnah, David Robertson, Jeffrey P. Krische

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Background
Among the unique features of the Rare Diseases Clinical Research Network (RDCRN) Program is the requirement for each Consortium to include patient advocacy groups (PAGs) as research partners. This development has transformed the work of the RDCRN and is a model for collaborative research. This article outlines the roles patients and PAGs play in the RDCRN and reports on the PAGs’ impact on the Network’s success.

Methods
Principal Investigators from the 17 RDCRN Consortia and 28 representatives from 76 PAGs affiliated with these Consortia were contacted by email to provide feedback via an online RDCRN survey. Impact was measured in the key areas of 1) Research logistics; 2) Outreach and communication; and 3) Funding and in-kind support. Rating choices were: 1-very negative, 2-somewhat negative, 3-no impact, 4-somewhat positive, and 5-very positive.

Results
Twenty-seven of the PAGs (96 %) disseminate information about the RDCRN within the patient community. The Consortium Principal Investigators also reported high levels of PAG involvement. Sixteen (94 %) Consortium Principal Investigators and 25 PAGs (89 %) reported PAGs participation in protocol review, study design, Consortium conference calls, attending Consortium meetings, or helping with patient recruitment.

Conclusions
PAGs are actively involved in shaping Consortia’s research agendas, help ensure the feasibility and success of research protocols by assisting with study design and patient recruitment, and support training programs. This extensive PAG-Investigator partnership in the RDCRN has had a strongly positive impact on the success of the Network.

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