Covid-19: TAPb accelerates clinical trials by providing patient samples

Tissue Access for Patient Benefit (TAPb) is a UCL and Royal Free NHS Foundation Trust initiative, based in the UCL Division of Surgery. For over a decade, TAPb has been linking laboratory-based research to clinical trials by enabling hospital patients to donate tissue and blood samples for research. This biobanking activity usually supports research in various diseases. Since the coronavirus outbreak TAPb has focused on collecting and delivering samples from COVID-19 patients, supporting scientists in research related to COVID-19 and the design of vaccines.

The UKCRC Tissue Directory and Coordination Centre (TDCC) is the UK’s national coordination centre for biobanks; co-led by UCL and the University of Nottingham. Directed by Philip Quinlan from Nottingham and supported from UCL by Amir Gander, TAPb Manager and Brian Davidson, UCL Professor of Surgery, this joint effort connects over 200 biobanks across the UK. The UKCRC TDCC has been working closely with the biobanking community during this time, but many UK biobanks have had to close during the pandemic, or have had to redirect their staff and resources for clinical work.

Patients’ samples are critical for developing new diagnostics, testing their accuracy and crucially for developing a vaccine. During this COVID-19 crisis the need to obtain and deliver patient blood, tissue or saliva to research scientists safely, at speed and with minimum disruption to front-line staff is of paramount importance. With many UK Biobanks having limited capabilities during this time, some researchers are struggling to obtain the samples needed to advance their work. TAPb has responded quickly and flexibly to the crisis and is the first UK tissue collection organisation to supply COVID-19 samples to researchers beyond their own institution.

TAPb benefits from the world-leading expertise held within the UCL Division or Surgery and the Royal Free Hospital; a national centre for excellence for infectious diseases. With vast experience in the appropriate use of human samples for research, TAPb not only collects samples from patients but can advise clinicians and scientists on the protocols to use samples correctly in their studies.

Amir Gander, TAPb Manager said, ‘When patients come to a hospital, they are asked if they wish to donate samples. Then the established TAPb network allows the co-ordination of the patient samples to be sent directly to scientists and doctors who can use them to test new diagnostics and how best to overcome this disease.’

Professor Brian Davidson, UCL Professor of Surgery commented, ‘The work of TAPb is so important because clinicians are often expected to collect samples themselves, however clearly at the moment they have very little capacity and it is crucial that the samples are collected and processed, safely, efficiently and in an ethical and documented way – as quickly as possible.’

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