Patients are set to benefit from innovative new treatments and improved delivery of health and care services following significant funding to support ground-breaking experimental medicine research and advance the UK’s response to patient safety challenges.
The government has announced that over £800 million of funding, to be allocated by the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR), will go to support specialist research facilities bringing together scientists to create an environment where experimental medicine and patient safety research can thrive.
This boost to the country’s research infrastructure will see further investment in scientific expertise which supports access to innovative technology and novel research projects. As well as this, it will improve regional economic growth through employment opportunities, giving private sector organisations confidence to continue to invest in research across the country.
Nearly £790 million has been awarded to 20 NIHR Biomedical Research Centres (BRCs) across England – including a new centre in Exeter - over the next five years to drive innovation in the diagnosis and treatment of illness across a variety of high-priority disease areas including cancer, mental health and dementia.
In addition, £25 million over the next five years has been awarded to six NIHR Patient Safety Research Centres (PSRCs) to help improve understanding and resolution of patient safety challenges. The funding will support research to improve incident reporting and investigations, digital innovations to improve patient safety and harness learning from service adaptation during the Covid pandemic.
Funding will be distributed across the country, with over £260 million being invested outside of London, Oxford and Cambridge. This will increase the coverage of experimental medicine across England and exceed the government’s previous commitments in the Levelling Up White Paper. Not only will this enable more areas to benefit from innovation and facilitate faster uptake where research takes place, it will help to improve health and care services across the country and reduce health inequalities by better understanding and treating illness and improving the delivery of care.
Health and Social Care Secretary and Deputy Prime Minister Thérèse Coffey said: “The pandemic has highlighted the importance of our booming research sector and the potential it has to not only strengthen health and care services, but lead to lifesaving developments.
“This additional funding will harness the UK’s world-leading innovation and allow research centres up and down the country to attract experts in their field and conduct research that saves lives.
“From helping develop the COVID vaccine to discovering world-first treatments, these centres have already delivered ground-breaking research and will continue to help us tackle some of the biggest health challenges we face, including cancer, to ensure the NHS continues to deliver world-class care.”
Over the past nine years, the NIHR BRCs have supported almost 60,000 experimental medicine research studies. These have resulted in direct health benefits for patients, including progressing innovative and faster diagnosis, as well as:
- The development of the Oxford AstraZeneca (AZ) vaccine – the world’s first approved vaccine – and support for the RECOVERY Trial, the world’s largest trial of potential treatments for COVID.
- A promising new treatment for motor neurone disease which has been shown to be safe, well tolerated and could help slow the progression of symptoms in people with a genetic form of this disease.
- Novel gene therapy which has the potential to be a ground-breaking cure for patients with haemophilia.
- A study that supports lower exposure to radiotherapy for women with breast cancer which reduces the damage to healthy tissue in the body and minimises subsequent side effects.
Over the last nine years, the current NIHR PSRCs have supported over 800 patient safety research studies. They have driven improvements in the safety of health and care services, for example:
- Use of artificial intelligence in detecting breast cancer from mammogram images.
- Reducing medication errors in primary care settings.
- Development of patient safety culture improvement programmes in NHS hospitals.
- Development of guidance for the involvement of patients and families in serious incident investigations.
Minister of State for Health, Robert Jenrick, said: “Clinical research has been vital in our fight against Covid and the UK’s innovation is enabling us to transform our health service and ensure it is firmly at the cutting edge of health and care.
“Our NIHR clinical research infrastructure provides crucial access to expertise in designing and delivering high quality, innovative research for the life sciences industry. This supports companies to conduct their clinical studies of new treatments in the UK for patient and public benefit and grows the UK’s share of the global market. We’re continuing to build on our world-leading advances to find new treatments and better diagnose illness as well as better understand how we can improve patient safety.”
Professor Lucy Chappell, Chief Executive of the NIHR, said: “This huge investment into early stage health and care research and patient safety innovation recognises the strength of expertise in these areas across the country, and gives our best researchers more opportunities to improve care and treatment for patients nationwide.
“These investments showcase our scientific excellence, ensuring that the UK benefits from the latest innovations and advancements in research and enables a strong and competitive research workforce to be further developed. They are crucial to ensuring that patients receive the highest quality, safest care.”
Investing in the NIHR Biomedical Research Centres and Patient Safety Research Collaborations will contribute to increased economic growth and build a healthier, more resilient nation.
More broadly, these centres will strengthen the resources and facilities for research across the NHS through access to experts at the forefront of their fields. A key feature of the centres is the collaboration between academics, clinicians, patients and life sciences industry.
The Patient Safety Research Collaborations will support the NHS to improve patient safety and reduce health inequalities, while the Biomedical Research Centres will help boost advancements in medical treatments and technology and advance our ability to diagnose and treat illness.