SIR Ian Botham today officially opened Darlington Memorial Hospital’s first clinical research unit which has been hailed as an important milestone for the County Durham and Darlington Trust.

The new £285,000 unit on the fifth floor of the hospital’s main tower block has been financed by income generated by the huge increase in clinical trials which have taken place in recent years.

Since the trust decided to turn itself into a centre for research four years ago the number of clinical trials has increased from four to 30.

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In 2012-13 alone County Durham and Darlington NHS Foundation Trust recruited 2,700 patients into 91 clinical trials and hospital bosses aim aim to increase this total every year.

From a standing start the trust is now the second largest in the North-East for clinical trials.

Following a ceremony in which former England cricket legend Sir Ian Botham cut a ribbon and declared the new Centre for Clinical Research and Innovation open, Professor Yan Yiannakou, director of research and development at the Trust said: “This is a great day because we are opening a great unit which will bring together researchers and clinicians for the benefit of our patients.

"This represents tremendous ambition and belief. We have got outcomes that are really turning heads. We have been the number one recruiter in the UK for 73 trials and the number one globally in several others. These are amazing performances from a trust like this.”

Prof Yiannakou said the ambition was to have research taking place on every ward and for every patient to have the opportunity to be involved.

Professor Pali Hungin, dean of medicine at Durham University, said until recently “the South end of the North” had been relatively disenfranchised in terms of clinical research but the time has come to change that situation.

He pointed out that the UK’s leading research group on heart failure is based  “right here in little old Darlington” and the County Durham and Darlington trust now has an opportunity to take on research which, in the past, has been allocated to bigger cities like Newcastle.

Prof Hungin said the transformation achieved in the trust within a few years was “quite inspirational.”

Trust chief executive Sue Jacques said: “This represents a real milestone for our trust.”

Sir Ian told The Northern Echo: “You have to move forward with medical research all the time. Twenty-eight years ago when I did my first sponsored walks for leukaemia only 20 per cent survived now its 90 per cent. That’s the whole point of research that’s why I support it.”

Alan Robson, from Cockerton, Darlington, was one of a number of patients invited to the ceremony who have volunteered for trials.

The 70-year-old, who has survived three heart attacks and has undergone a triple cardiac bypass, has been on clinical trials for more than a decade and is currently being treated with an unlicensed drug.

“The way I think of it is that I have nothing to lose,” he said.