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Fast track review guidance for COVID-19 studies

Last updated on 19 Nov 2020

Our fast-track approval process provides dedicated support to researchers to enable their study to be swiftly reviewed by a Research Ethics Committee and approvals specialists. This page provides information about how we decide which studies will be fast-tracked, how long the fast-track review takes, and what you need to do to apply.

How we decide which studies will be fast-tracked

COVID-19 studies are assessed by the HRA’s Director of the Approvals Service or their delegate to determine whether they will be accepted for fast-track review. New studies or amendments to existing studies that involve research on COVID-19 will be accepted for fast-track review if they fall into the following categories and will produce interim or final published results within one year, or are funded through the UK-wide NIHR call for COVID-19 Recovery and Learning.

Reviewed within 24 hours of submission

All studies have been identified by the Chief Medical Officer as an urgent public health study, or have been determined to be studies of national interest by a government department (including in devolved administrations) or by Public Health England or equivalent national bodies.

Reviewed within 36 - 72 hours of submission

  • A study of a vaccine, treatment or diagnostic for COVID-19
  • A study to understand immune response to COVID-19
  • A study to understand prevalence or transmission of COVID-19

These criteria have been amended from the original criteria to reflect the large quantity of research already underway, as there is limited capacity across the system. Researchers are encouraged to check what research is already underway through the research summaries published on the HRA website.

All other research on COVID-19 will be managed through normal submission processes and timelines. If the COVID-19 elements of the study are tangential, studies will not be accepted for fast-track review but will be reviewed through the normal process. Existing studies that add questionnaires or sample collection relating to COVID-19 as supplementary or contextual information but are not designed specifically to address the COVID-19 pandemic will be processed through the normal process.

Research that is being amended to address the impact or consequences of COVID, or is exploring how COVID is affecting the participant population will be processed through the normal process.

Please liaise with the proposed sites for all COVID-19 research to ensure that there is capacity to undertake the study.

How to apply for fast-track review

Before you start to develop your protocol, please check the list of approved COVID-19 studies to ensure that limited resources during this time are not wasted on unnecessary duplication of research. Please also review our guidance for COVID-19 studies that brings together relevant information to help you develop your study.

Please contact us to enquire about the fast-track process at an early stage in your study preparation and let us know when you plan to submit. This helps us to plan in enough committee meetings for fast-track studies.

Please create a project ID on the IRAS website.

When you have done this, please send us an email, copying in your research sponsor. Please include any documents that you have ready and any questions you may have. The full list of information required for a fast-track study can be found below. Your application will be triaged and, if approved in principle for fast-track review, we will follow up with you to let you know the timeline. Please ensure that you include your contact details.

We require:

  • a brief summary of the study (if you have a protocol or one-page summary already please let us know)
  • your current working title, and IRAS ID
  • when you expect you will be able to submit the full study via IRAS
  • whether the study involves the NHS and, if so, if you have agreement in principle from the relevant Research & Development offices and clinical services that they have the capacity to support this study now
  • whether you have applied for prioritisation of this project from the Chief Medical Officer or had funding confirmed through the NIHR COVID-19 Recovery and Learning call.
  • whether the study is a Clinical Trial of an Investigational Medicinal Product (CTIMP). If so then you will also need submit to the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA). We will liaise with them to expedite the review. If it is a CTIMP, our Pharmacy Assurance process can support site set up.
  • whether the study involves ionising radiation. If so, our Radiation Assurance process can support site set up.

We will also ask you to:

  • tell us if the study will include Adults Lacking Capacity
  • tell us if the study is funded by the United States Department of Health and Human Services (USDHHS)
  • tell us which nations the study will include (if this is Scotland, Northern Ireland or Wales please also contact the research operations lead in the relevant nation), and
  • give us a predicted date when you may be able to start the study.

We will aim to publish your research summary together with your contact details within 3 days of approval, this is quicker than our standard timeline of after three months for non-COVID-19 studies. We are doing this because it’s important that the research community and wider public can see information about COVID-19 studies taking place. 

We are also asking sponsors not to request deferral of the publication of these research summaries. However, should you wish to make a request to defer publication please email as soon as possible stating the period of time you are requesting a deferral for and the reason for the deferral request. We will postpone publication of your summary whilst your deferral request is under consideration. Find out more and view existing studies on our approved summaries page. 

Public involvement is important and expected in COVID-19 research as much as it is for other research. It is also possible to involve patients and the public to the same rapid timescale that studies are being designed and set up. If you need advice on how to contact and involve people with relevant lived experience, contact our Public Involvement Team via We can put you in touch with groups or networks who can arrange input rapidly and at short notice. You will usually receive a response on the same day or next working day.

If you intend to use confidential patient information without consent, please see our guidance

We will consider requests for fast-track review as soon as possible. Please email us at

. You will usually receive a response on the same day or next working day.

Please also contact:

  • the NIHR Clinical Research Network and/or the national contact in Scotland or Northern Ireland as appropriate for the location of the sites 
  • other regulators, for example the MHRA, if the study requires clinical trial authorisation

If you are amending your study to include COVID-19, please submit your amendment in the usual way and indicate in your application that you are seeking fast-track review. We will review whether they meet our fast-track requirements and process accordingly.

In parallel, please submit the amendment for consideration as Urgent Public Health Research via the NIHR website.

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