Expanding clinical research in northern B.C.

The Northern Centre for Clinical Research is creating more opportunities for biomedical research and clinical trials — in a uniquely northern context.

When UBC’s Dr. Anurag Singh first moved to Prince George a decade ago, he found a small but mighty community of health researchers dedicated to improving the health of people across northern B.C.

Now, as the inaugural director of the Northern Centre for Clinical Research (NCCR), he hopes to build on that proud tradition — bringing together academics, clinicians and Indigenous and community partners to expand capacity for biomedical research and clinical trials in a uniquely northern context.

“For so long, clinical research has been centred around major urban areas,” says Dr. Singh. “Now, with a dedicated centre for clinical research based in Prince George, northern communities will benefit from biomedical discoveries and advances in clinical care much sooner.”

Launched in 2022 as a partnership between the UBC Faculty of Medicine, University of Northern British Columbia (UNBC) and Northern Health, the NCCR builds on existing infrastructure and partnerships to expand translational biomedical research for the benefit of northern, remote, rural and Indigenous communities.

The research studies are wide-ranging and include clinical trials exploring innovative treatments for everything from cancer, neurological conditions and kidney disease to diabetes and respiratory illnesses. The studies bring together interdisciplinary research teams from across academic institutions and partners such as BC Cancer, BC Renal and other groups.

For Dr. Singh, an assistant professor in UBC’s Department of Medicine and medical director of kidney services for Northern Health, it is imperative that the work to build out the NCCR be shaped by the very people and patients who live in the North.

“It’s about improving the health and lives of northerners, and doing so in a way that is inclusive, collaborative, built on trust and partnership, and very much rooted in local realities and values,” says Dr. Singh.

To guide the Centre’s activities, the NCCR has formed a 30-member advisory council co-chaired by the Faculty of Medicine’s Dr. Paul Winwood, regional associate dean for northern British Columbia. The council brings together Indigenous health scholars and leaders, health professionals, researchers, patients and community members whose diverse voices help to ensure the Centre’s activities are relevant and beneficial to the people of northern B.C.

From left to right: Julia Climaco, KD Taylor, Anurag Singh, Tatiana Barcelos Pontes, April Hughes, Celia Belamour, and Karin Fidler.

Dr. Singh and his team have also built deep partnerships with regional and province-wide organizations such as the UNBC Health Research Institute, Rural Coordination Centre of BC, Michael Smith Health Research BC, First Nations Health Authority, and Carrier Sekani Family Services. The centre’s core team of staff has grown too — with seven members and counting — including research associates and a manager, a clinical research coordinator and a community liaison.

Together, they’re creating the infrastructure needed to foster a resilient and independent research ecosystem in the North, from policies, processes and procedures, to shared research tools and training programs for clinical investigators.

Although it’s early days, Dr. Singh says the work is already making a big impact.

“We’re hosting a wider range of clinical trials and enrolling more participants in clinical trials than ever before — with many more about to get underway,” he explains.

He expects that the NCCR’s capacity will only grow over time, and that those efforts will help to bridge gaps in access and healthcare delivery for northerners.

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