UCL Institute of Clinical Trials and Methodology


Denise Ward

Data Manager, ARREST trial

When did you first become interested in medicine/science?

I’ve always liked science. Unfortunately I didn’t pursue it when I was in college: I think I was trying to choose all-rounder subjects rather than what I was interested in, because I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do. But I’ve always liked science. I’ve always liked anatomy and medicine, and virology. Before I even knew it was virology I just liked learning about diseases and viruses!

And what did you study?

I studied psychology when I was at university and we went into biopsychology (the hard-wired, brain sciences part). In biopsychology you would learn about how different medicines like antidepressants affected your brain chemistry.
You were also introduced to the basic research experiment framework: the consenting process, participant information process, actually doing the behavioural experiment and then the follow-up afterwards. It’s quite similar to a clinical trial and got me interested in medicine as research, or science as research.

And how did your career develop after your studies?

I then worked at the Social and Public Health Sciences Unit (part of the MRC) when I was living in Glasgow. I had to do a literature review about HIV and at-risk populations and, again, there was a lot of information about the medicines taken and given. Remembering medicine names is something that I quite like doing!
That also heightened my interest in research, and of course coming here was another chance to be involved in research and medicine.

How has your career developed since being here?

I started off in admin. I didn’t even know about the job I’m in at the moment (Data Manager) existed until I was taking minutes in management meetings and heard discussions about what positions people are in.
A lot of things that a Data Manager did were things that I’d already touched on, in my degree or previous roles. So I was already quite well-prepared for it, I just didn’t know that the job existed! I applied for it and the interview went really well. I felt that I was quite well suited and it did turn out I was well suited!
The first trial I worked on here was an HIV trial (the NEAT trial), so again, lots of medicine names to remember! At the moment I work on an antibiotic trial, called ARREST. When I was working on NEAT I did only Data Manager tasks, but on ARREST I take on Trial Manager responsibilities when the trial manager is away. So I’m getting a little bit of experience of being a Trial Manager.
It all came full circle. I’ve still got a fascination with medicine. I didn’t have the qualifications to study medicine but to still be able to be actively involved in research is really good. I’m really pleased with that.

Could you tell us a bit more about ARREST?

Well… ARREST stands for “Adjunctive Rifampicin to Reduce Early mortality from Staphylococcus aureus bacteraemia”!
The trial is looking at giving an extra antibiotic, rifampicin, alongside the standard antibiotic treatment for staphylococcus aureus blood infections. It’s a randomised, placebo controlled trial. Some of the participants will receive live rifampicin and their standard antibiotic treatment, and then others will receive a placebo and their standard antibiotic treatment.
The aim of ARREST is to see whether adding rifampicin helps patients to get better faster and to reduce deaths. A lot of the patients who get staphylococcus aureus bacteraemia are usually quite unwell, so getting a blood infection is another thing to add on to everything else.

And what do you do day-to-day in your role?

I deal with the database: making sure the data is clean and of high quality, and answering any queries that the sites have. I also look after pharmacovigilance.
I do a lot of preparation for Trial Management Group meetings. I do site-monitoring as well, so I get to go to hospitals in different parts of the country and check that they are set-up to run the trial correctly. ARREST is taking place in England only, but I’ve seen parts of England that I wouldn’t have seen before if I wasn’t working on this trial. We’ve got sites as far down as Plymouth, and as far up as Durham and Darlington.
I’m also involved in opening up new sites. I deal with the data management side and training people to use the database. Training makes up a big part of my job, as well as answering queries from sites and making myself as available to them as possible. I try and put myself in their position and to be friendly and patient. I want them to feel happy about coming to us for help, and to feel that they will get a good reception.

Have you experienced barriers in your career, or have there been any times when you have needed extra support?

The only thing I wasn’t really sure about was the transition from admin to data management. I thought it might be a problem but the transition was actually quite seamless. The process that they put in place for me to transition over from admin was very helpful. I did it part-time, gradually reducing the old role and increasing the new one.
I’d sometimes wondered if I’d need to do further education. I know that the MRC CTU at UCL provides funded masters and PhDs, and I was thinking, ‘Will I need to do anything further?’ But I’ve got to where I am at the moment just on my BSc in Psychology, and it doesn’t really look like I’ll need any further education to go a step further. I’m already getting the experience and that’s the important thing.

What plans do you have for the future?

Well the thing I like about working here is that as one trial finishes, you can go onto another. It could be in the same disease area, it could be in a completely new disease area. I’m in a bit of a niche area at the moment, as the main disease groups we work in are HIV, Cancer, with big TB focus as well. And I’m in the tiny little staphylococcus aureus group!
I would like to go on to become a Trial Manager on another trial, but only when this trial has reached its natural completion.
I’m also interested in Data Science. But at the moment I like being directly involved in one trial, and in being involved in everything about that trial, whereas with a Data Scientist position you dip in and out of multiple projects.
I really enjoy my job. I really do enjoy it. It’s nice to be experienced in something like databases, because I really like computers. I think the main plan is to just continue enjoying what I am doing!