UK invests £230m in stratified medicine, genomics and dementia research

24 October 2014

The UK government has announced that a partnership led by the Medical Research Council (MRC) will invest over £230 million in 23 medical research centres around the UK to develop new technology for identifying the causes of diseases such as cancer, dementia, metabolic disorders, arthritis, and respiratory diseases.

The Clinical Research Infrastructure Initiative will bring together funding from the UK Government, Welsh government and Northern Ireland administration, Arthritis Research UK, British Heart Foundation, the Wellcome Trust and Cancer Research UK. Many of the projects will involve partnerships with pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies.

A number of the funded projects will enable the UK to maintain its position at the forefront of medical imaging technology. The UK has played a major role in pioneering the use of these technologies in the last 30-40 years and is home to many of the leading experts in the field. The funding will bring some of the most sophisticated imaging technologies in the world into UK clinical research and then develop the techniques still further using the UK’s expertise in this area.

Combining imaging technologies such as 7Tesla ‘ultrahigh-field’ MRI with other innovative research techniques will give scientists an ever more detailed view of what’s happening within the body. There are around 40 machines worldwide but only two of these are in the UK (Oxford and Nottingham). The CRII funding will provide two new scanners and upgrade the Nottingham machine.

The technology is particularly important in brain research because it can look at small changes in the structure, function and chemistry of the brain even before diseases such as dementia start.

Cardiff University has secured £6.7m, including £3.4m from the Welsh Government, for the same 7Tesla MRI technology. This will be used to investigate the causes and treatments of dementia, but also other brain conditions such as schizophrenia, Parkinson's disease, Huntington's disease and multiple sclerosis. The proposed research will also link the discovery of genetic factors associated with brain disease to detailed assessments of brain structure and function made with the 7T MRI system. This will give a clearer picture of underlying disease mechanisms that will in turn suggest new treatments.

Teams from the University of Leeds and the University of York are developing a new imaging method (SABRE) that has the potential to increase the signal in an MRI image by up to 100,000 times. The £7.6m investment (including co-funding from British Heart Foundation and Arthritis Research UK) will magnetically ‘label’ specific molecules so that they can be visualised as they pass through the body without changing their role.

With this technique it is possible to label both drugs and substances that occur naturally in the body, making the method widely applicable. Ultimately the method is expected to work with any hospital MRI scanner. The technique could be applied to patients with heart disease, cancer and joint disease within five years and will help speed up the development of new drugs.

A team from the Institute of Cancer Research, London, hope to revolutionise radiation treatment by developing a new type of machine called an MR-Linac (to be installed at the Royal Marsden Hospital). The machine combines a state of-the-art radiation machine (called a linear accelerator) with an MRI scanner.

The machine could not only provide highly accurate visualisation of a tumour, but will do so at the same time as each fraction of radiation therapy is delivered, tracking the movements of a tumour in real-time within a patient while they are being given radiation and allowing the tumour to be targeted accurately. This will give both clinicians and patients greater confidence that the treatment will be effective and with fewer side effects.

Speaking in Exeter, Chancellor George Osborne, said “The UK is already a world leader in science and research, which is why at Budget, I protected science spending. Today we go a step further by announcing £150 million of new investment in clinical research infrastructure. The funding will go to 23 truly innovative projects from across the UK today that represent the best of British ingenuity and scientific exploration. The Government, charities, universities and industry will be working together to advance our knowledge in combatting the biggest medical challenges of our time.”

Professor Sir John Savill, Chief Executive of the MRC, said: “The Government entrusted £150 million of funding to this initiative. With generous contributions from Arthritis Research UK, the British Heart Foundation and other partners, we have been able to invest over £230 million in a collaboration that will catalyse innovation and advance our knowledge in completely new areas of research.”

Life Sciences Minister George Freeman said: “We want to make the UK the best place in the world for life sciences. Building on our existing research infrastructure this investment will speed up the innovation of experimental medicine, strengthen partnerships with industry and charities and boost our economic growth in this exciting sector.”

As part of the Initiative, a £24m investment in Genomics England (made through Queen Mary University of London and partners) was made to support the 100,000 Genomes Project by helping to provide the infrastructure needs to support data analysis and interpretation and make this securely available to doctors and researchers. This was announced by the Prime Minister on the 1 August 2014.

The awards

Download Summaries of the awards (PDF) from the MRC website.

Theme 1: innovative technologies for stratified and experimental medicine

Medical imaging

  1. Prof Richard Wise, Cardiff University (£6.7M, including £3.4M from the Welsh Government)
  2. Prof Peter Morris, Sir Peter Mansfield Imaging Centre (SPMIC), University of Nottingham (£7.7M)
  3. Prof James Wild, University of Sheffield (£7.5M, including co-funding from British Heart Foundation)
  4. Prof Sven Plein, University of Leeds & University of York (£7.6M, including co-funding from British Heart Foundation and Arthritis Research UK)

Stratified medicine

  1. Prof Mark Caulfield, Genomics England (Queen Mary University of London and partners) (£24M)
  2. Prof David Adams, West Midlands Stratified Medicine Innovation & Translation Facility (University of Birmingham) (£7.2M, including co-funding from Arthritis Research UK)
  3. Prof Anthony Whetton, Clinical Proteomics Centre for Stratified Medicine (University of Manchester) (£12.8M)
  4. Prof Patrick Maxwell, University of Cambridge (£14.6M)
  5. Prof Munir Pirmohamed, University of Liverpool (£5M)

Experimental medicine

  1. Prof Kevin Harrington, Institute of Cancer Research (£9.6M)
  2. Prof Mark Emberton, Centre for Image Guided Therapy, University College London (£5.3M)
  3. Prof Richard Trembath, Queen Mary University of London (£1.8M)
  4. Prof Danny McAuley, Queen’s University Belfast (£1.5M, including co-funding from the Northern Ireland Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety)

Theme 2: dementias research

  1. Dr John Gallacher, UK Dementias Research Platform (£36.8M, including co-funding from the Welsh Government)
  2. Prof Tarek Yousry, University College London (£1.2M)
  3. Prof James Rowe, University of Cambridge (£7M)

Theme 3: single cell genomics

  1. Prof Doug Higgs, University of Oxford (£5M)
  2. Prof Patrick Maxwell, University of Cambridge (£3.5M)
  3. Prof Cay Kielty, University of Manchester (£4.9M)
  4. Prof Patrick Chinnery, Newcastle University (£1.7M, including co-funding from Arthritis Research UK)
  5. Prof David Bonthron, University of Leeds (£1.1M)
  6. Prof Tariq Enver, University College London (£3.6M)
  7. Prof Jonathan Mill, University of Exeter (£1.6M)


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