The Medical Research Council have published their mid-term report which outlines how they are meeting the objectives of their 2009-2014 strategic plan, Research changes lives. Over 130 pages it shows what has been achieved through MRC-funded research with examples drawn from e-Val, the MRC online grant outcomes tracker which allows them to follow the outputs of the research they fund, effectively seeing what happens next. There are some great examples showing how MRC funding is partnering and complementing funding and initiatives by medical research charities.
What are MRC’s strategic objectives?
Strategic Aim One: Picking research that delivers. The MRC aims to speed up the exploitation of the best ideas in medical science, from fundamental discovery science to products that help people. This involves high quality science across the breadth of disciplines relevant to improving human health. This is divided into two themes: resilience, repair and replacement; and living a long and healthy life.
Strategic Aim Two: Research to people. They committed to work with researchers in both public and private sectors, regulators, and the wider science community to ensure that research is translated into tangible benefits for society as a whole. This includes talking about the research they are doing with scientists, the public and policy makers.
Strategic Aim Three: Going Global. The MRC aims to use its experience, expertise and resources to encourage scientists to collaborate with the international community to tackle important and challenging research goals, including health problems in developing countries.
Strategic Aim Four: Supporting scientists. To strengthen the UK research base to enable the scientific community to respond effectively to current and future challenges in medical research. This includes maintaining an effective workforce, enabling the use of population data for research and improving the research environment.
What’s in the report?
In all, the MRC made 83 specific commitments in their strategic plan. In this mid-term report they rate their progress, giving it a score of either: little new progress; partial progress; and significant progress. They then go on to give details as to how their rating has been reached. This is the first time the MRC has produced such a comprehensive assessment of their achievements, with 220 case-studies detailing, for example, new discoveries and treatments, infrastructure gains or recommendations and changes in health policy. The case-studies have been selected from the MRC e-Val dataset, an online record of feedback from over 3,000 MRC funded researchers who have received MRC funded research fellowships, grants and intramural research programmes active since 2006.
A summary of their key achievements can be found in the executive summary.
Where have charities featured?
It’s great to see charities popping up throughout the report, showing how intertwined government and charity R&D really is. I’ve picked out all the case-studies involving charities and, as you can see, there’s a stunning number of interactions; for example, where MRC researchers have been able to continue their work with the help of AMRC members or where co-investments have greatly expanded UK research infrastructure.
- MRC investment in a new Centre for Virus Research at Glasgow University attracted a major infrastructure award from the Wellcome-Wolfson Trust
- MRC and the Wellcome Trust awarded £16m to three major collaborative programmes through a joint neurodegeneration call for proposals. The call focussed on research addressing debilitating disorders such as Alzheimer’s Disease, Parkinson’s Disease and Motor Neuron Disease and has brought in cutting-edge research expertise outside these areas, thereby building research capacity.
- MRC & Asthma UK are co-funding a Centre in Allergic Mechanisms of Asthma at King’s College London and Imperial College. The Centre has also attracted £4m funding for a research programme awarded by MRC and GlaxoSmithKline.
- MRC invested £5m with Arthritis Research UK into two MRC-Arthritis Research UK Centres for Musculoskeletal Ageing Research
- Together with the Wellcome Trust. MRC have renewed their support for the University of Cambridge MRC-Wellcome Trust Behavioural and Clinical Neuroscience Institute, which will get £4.3m over 5 years (£2.7m from MRC).
- Probably the first time ever Kerry Katona, along with Stephen Fry, has been named in a science policy document! They are both listed as helping to recruit participants into a Wellcome Trust-funded bi-polar disorders research network.
- MRC has contributed £3.8m to an overall £8.1m award to establish the Wellcome Trust-MRC Stem Cell Institute in Cambridge.
- A US company is preparing for Phase 2 studies of a blood vessel-stimulating treatment based on the work of a British Heart Foundation supported research group. The lead investigator was an MRC Career Establishment Grant holder.
- A spin-out company called Pro-cure from the Yorkshire Cancer Research Unit at the University of York is in part based on research from MRC funded prostate cancer collaboratives.
- MRC, in partnership with the Wellcome Trust, supported the next phase of £6m funding for the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children, which has also attracted BBSRC funding to build an accessible resource for integrated epigenomics studies (ARIES), which will make epigenomics data openly available to the UK community.
- MRC has provided £1.2m to help the UK Cystic Fibrosis Gene Therapy Consortium – led by Cystic Fibrosis UK – develop more effective gene therapy delivery methods.
- MRC and Autistica are both funders of the multinational Autism Genome Project.
- The Wellcome Trust has invested £5.8m to examine the safety of techniques to avoid the inheritance of mitochondrial diseases, which have been developed in part using MRC funding.
- Researchers at the MRC Clinical Sciences Centre have started early phase clinical studies of a drug that may correct the genetic disorder Friedreich’s ataxia (FA) with funding from Ataxia UK and other European Ataxia charities.
- The Translational Research Initiative for Hearing scheme run by Action on Hearing Loss is funding development work on possible treatments for otitis media – inflamation of the inner ear – based on research patented by MRC.
- MRC- and British Lung Foundation-funded research revealed that foetuses which develop quickly in early pregnancy but falter later on in pregnancy are likely to go on to develop allergies and asthma as children.
- MRC- and British Heart Foundation-funded research suggests that people who leave education with fewer qualifications (a marker of lower socio-economic status) suffer faster aging at a cellular level (their telomeres shorten more rapidly).
- MRC leads the National Prevention Research Initiative (NPRI), a consortium of 16 Government Departments, Research Councils and charities, tackling the health effects of behaviours such as smoking, poor diet, lack of physical activity and excessive alcohol intake.
- The UK Biobank is funded by MRC, the Wellcome Trust and the British Heart Foundation, among others.
- The European Investigation on Cancer (EPIC) is the largest study of health and diet ever undertaken, having recruited over half a million people in ten European countries. 87,000 participants have been enrolled in the UK, led by MRC supported groups in Cambridge and Oxford, with funding also from Cancer Research UK, the British Heart Foundation, NIHR and the European Commission.
- A large multi-centre clinical trial of the cyto-sponge – a diagnostic tool for oesophageal cancer - is partly funded by Cancer Research UK. Early clinical work was supported by MRC Technology via a development gap fund award.
- MRC have worked with many charities – primarily the Wellcome Trust – to feed into policy, including responding to the 2011 ruling of the European Court of Justice banning the patenting of interventions involving human embryonic stem cells (hESCs) (which AMRC also signed up to) and providing input to the Ministry of Justice on the implications for research of the draft EU Regulation for data protection. (you can read what we’ve said about the draft Regulation here)
- With the National Cancer Research Institute, MRC produced a report outlining the vision for improved access to human tissue resources for researchers and the actions required to achieve it.
- MRC-funded groups contributed to the strategic goals-setting of Arthritis Research UK.
- The MRC Hubs for Trial Methodology Research (HTMR) have helped helped a number of charities with trial design.
- MRC increased investment into global health clinical trials by leading a joint initiative (£19m so far) with Department for International Development (DFID) and the Wellcome Trust focussing on late stage clinical and health intervention trials.
- MRC has invested £6.5m, jointly with the Wellcome Trust and BBSRC, on understanding the development and spread of pandemic influenza H1N1.
- MRC, DFID, the Wellcome Trust and ESRC held a workshop to discuss the opportunities to work jointly on implementation and health systems research. The four funders are working together to define the scope of a research call tackling this area.
- MRC report a growth in charity partnering to co-fund Clinical Research Training Fellowships (CRTFs). Over £3.5m has been contributed since 2007 by 21 partners to 36 CRTFs and one Clinician Scientist award.
- From 2013, MRC will become co-funders of the Academy of Medical Sciences Starter Grants for Clinical Lecturers scheme, following in the footsteps of the Wellcome Trust, the British Heart Foundation and Arthritis Research UK.
- MRC, Cancer Research UK, the Wellcome Trust, and London Universities are collaborating to build the £540m Francis Crick Institute.
- MRC is a funder of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Medical Research, along with AMRC, the Wellcome Trust, Cancer Research UK, Arthritis Research UK and the Academy of Medical Sciences.
It’s not just charities that MRC is working well with of course. Working jointly with the Association of British Pharmaceutical Industries (ABPI) and their member companies, the MRC launched an initiative in inflammation and immunology. Following two disease-focused workshops that brought together experts from academia and industry, the MRC invested £9.5m to establish two disease-specific consortia in Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) and Rheumatoid Arthritis (coming under the “resilience, repair and replacement” objectives). The consortia are in the process of establishing cohorts of well-characterised patients in order to better understand disease and possible drug targets. This is the first example of an MRC initiative that was shaped in partnership with industry and brings together a large number of academic investigators across the UK with pharmaceutical and biotech companies.
And there’s also the compound sharing initiative with AstraZeneca, which has allowed 22 compounds to be made available to the UK academic research community to investigate disease mechanisms and study whether these drugs can be but to greater use.
There are many more examples in the report.
This report will now inform strategic discussions by the MRC Board and Overview Groups as they plan their future research priorities and will help determine what the next strategic plan looks like.
For us, this is a treasure trove of examples of the value of charity funding. It also clearly shows the power of having an extensive and searchable database of not only all the work being funded but also the many different outcomes arising from that funding, stretching from new treatments to headlines in the daily newspapers.
The E-Val system used by MRC to collect all this evidence is available to other research funders in the form of Researchfish.