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 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.
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
Reviewed within one-two weeks of submission:
- A study of the wider impact of COVID-19 (including on mental health)
- A study to enhance general understanding of COVID-19 (e.g. in specific patient populations)
- A retrospective analysis of existing data
Some 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. These studies are reviewed within 24 hours of submission.
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.
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.
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.
- 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
- 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)
- tell us if you agree to us publishing a summary of your study on our dedicated website, and
- give us a predicted date when you may be able to start the study.
If you intend to use confidential patient information without consent, we can advise.
We will consider requests for fast-track review as soon as possible. Please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. You will usually receive a response within four hours (if you get in touch between 8am and 7pm during the week or 10am and 4pm at the weekends or on a Bank Holiday).
Amendments for fast-track review should be submitted in the usual way, including ‘COVID-19’ in the email subject heading. We will triage them for fast track review internally.
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 email@example.com. 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.
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