Pioneering research into medical advancements in Leicester has received a welcome boost today, as the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) announces £26 million over the next five years for an NIHR Leicester Biomedical Research Centre (BRC).
NIHR Biomedical Research Centres are partnerships between healthcare professionals and academics in the country’s leading NHS trusts and universities. The NIHR Leicester BRC is a partnership between the University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust, University of Leicester, Loughborough University and University Hospitals of Northamptonshire NHS Group.
The combined research teams in Leicester, Loughborough and Northampton will work together to develop groundbreaking treatments, diagnostics, prevention and care for people who have a wide range of diseases.
The investment from the NIHR will mean that research into illnesses linked to respiratory diseases (affecting the lungs), cardiovascular diseases (hearts and circulation), type 2 diabetes, chronic kidney disease and the consequences of inactivity will continue to push boundaries of knowledge in clinical medicine.
Three new speciality areas (called themes) will join the NIHR Leicester BRC for the first time:
- Personalised cancer prevention and treatments
- Environment – looking at how the environment impacts on long term health conditions; and
- Using data to better understand multiple long term health conditions and factors specific to the health of ethnic minority populations.
In addition, the respiratory speciality will be joined by experts in infectious diseases.
The NIHR Leicester BRC was first launched on 1 April 2017. The new and larger Leicester BRC will begin on 1 December 2022, following an open and competitive process judged by international experts and members of the public. Leicester is one of only 20 Biomedical Research Centres across the country. Its award is part of a significant funding increase for the Midlands, ensuring that patients across the region have opportunities to benefit from innovative research studies. These benefits include access to treatments that are not yet widely available in the NHS.
The new funding will also provide opportunities for a diverse range of professionals to undertake research, expanding research expertise in allied health professionals – such as physiotherapists, radiologists and dietitians – as well as in doctors and nurses.
Professor Lucy Chappell, Chief Executive of the NIHR, said: “Research by NIHR Biomedical Research Centres has led to a number of ground-breaking new treatments, such as new gene therapies for haemophilia and motor neurone disease, the world-first treatment for Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease, a nose-drop vaccine for whooping cough, and the first UK-wide study into the long-term impact of COVID-19.
“This latest round of funding recognises the strength of expertise underpinning health and care research across the country and gives our nation’s best researchers more opportunities to develop innovative new treatments for patients.”
Professor Melanie Davies CBE, Director of the NIHR Leicester BRC, said: “I am absolutely thrilled at the success of our BRC application. We have doubled our number of themes, including into really important clinical areas such as cancer, which will make such a difference to patients. We have expanded investment into cardiovascular, respiratory and diabetes research and this award will help us retain 120 talented investigators and importantly 45 ‘rising stars’, or leaders of the future, who may have otherwise moved away.
“This is a phenomenal success for our hospital and impacts the people of Leicester, Leicestershire and Northamptonshire, and will allow us to attract even more investment into our hospitals and Universities.”
Richard Mitchell, Chief Executive of Leicester’s Hospitals, said: “This is a really important moment; it symbolises years of hard work and dedication to put clinical research in Leicester on the map. I believe UHL is in a unique position in the UK to deliver world-class research. We are a very large provider of integrated health and care, we have a strong relationship with our local universities, NHS and local authority partners, and we serve a diverse population with high levels of deprivation. Twenty- seven languages are spoken within 1.5 miles of the Leicester Royal Infirmary. If you want to conduct international research, it is clear you do not need to travel further than Leicester.”
Professor Tom Robinson, Head of the College of Life Sciences at the University of Leicester, said: “The renewal of our NIHR Biomedical Research Centre, with a 2.5-fold increase in funding is excellent news. This award builds on the results of the recent Research Excellence Framework, which placed Clinical Medicine research at the University of Leicester second in the United Kingdom.
“This is clear recognition of the world-leading research undertaken by Leicester’s investigators into common clinical diseases and healthcare problems, that ultimately will improve health outcomes for patients and populations, in Leicester, the UK and worldwide.”
Professor David Stensel of Loughborough University, who will co-lead the Lifestyle Theme of the new BRC, commented: “This award is an outstanding achievement and testament to an extremely productive 10-year partnership in health research between Loughborough University, Leicester’s Hospitals and the University of Leicester. This partnership began with the NIHR-funded Diet, Lifestyle and Physical Activity Biomedical Research Unit (BRU: 2012 to 2017) and was followed by the NIHR-funded Leicester Biomedical Research Centre (BRC: 2017 to 2022).
“This new award ensures another five years of fruitful collaboration between Leicester and Loughborough, where Loughborough’s expertise in physical activity, exercise, diet, and sleep will continue to inform research and policy development for the benefit of people living in the Midlands, the UK and beyond.”
Associate Director of Research, Innovation, & Education for the University Hospitals of Northamptonshire NHS Group, Kay Faulkner, said: “We are delighted to learn that NIHR Leicester Biomedical Research Centre has been, once again, successful in achieving significant research funding for the next five years. This is a significant development for us as we progress our research ambitions and academic partnerships.
“As a University Hospitals Group the sort of research being undertaken will be a benefit for our clinicians, who can become involved in some incredible cutting-edge research, and for our patients, who will have more opportunities to take part in clinical trials and other kinds of research.”
The current NIHR Leicester BRC has had a key role in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. This included leading a UK-wide study into the longer term effects of COVID-19 on hospitalised patients, which found that of these people 70 per cent continued to report some symptoms up to 12 months after they were first infected with the virus.
Other findings that the NIHR Leicester BRC has made during the last five years include:
- Faster walks more likely to live longer; and, faster walking pace may slow the biological ageing process
- The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on healthcare workers from ethnic minority backgrounds is unlikely to be due to biology or genetics
- An alternative to open heart surgery, called TAVI, is just as effective for patients with severe symptomatic aortic stenosis (a narrowing of the valve that blood flows through as it leaves the heart)
- Sixty per cent of patients on a trial into a medicine for type 2 diabetes had a10 per cent or greater weight loss after four weeks
- Three genes that are associated with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, a fatal lung disease
Over the past five years, the NIHR Leicester BRC has supported over 340 studies and published nearly 2,000 research papers, as well as supported 61 PhD students beginning their health research careers.
The National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) has awarded nearly £800 million to 20 new Biomedical Research Centres across England, to translate scientific discoveries into new treatments, diagnostic tests and medical technologies for patients. Biomedical research in the North and Midlands gets a significant funding boost, with nearly £250 million of the funding invested outside of London, Oxford and Cambridge.
NIHR infrastructure funding, such as that awarded for BRCs, supports the country’s leading experts to develop and deliver research funded by the NIHR, other public funders, charities and the life sciences industry. In doing so, its investment plays a crucial role in underpinning research in England and supporting economic growth. For every £1 invested in the current NIHR Leicester BRC, an additional £10 was received through external grants.