Stories about the people, science and research of the Medical Research Council.
6 Nov 2014
We’ve looked at what it’s like to be a member of an MRC board, but what actually happens at a meeting? Katherine Nightingale sat in on part of a Panel session to find out.
The scoring equipment used by the Panel
In a large, bright room on the 13th floor of a London office block, 25 people are deciding how to spend up to £10 million. They are the MRC’s Developmental Pathway Funding Scheme (DPFS) Panel, charged with making decisions on applications for funding the development and testing of new therapies, medical devices and diagnostics.
The task at hand is to consider a set of 15 full applications seeking just over £15m for funding. Each application has already been the subject of considerable work from the Panel during the outline stage, which does what it says on the tin, with the Panel feeding back on a brief description of the project. [...]
Continue reading: Behind the scenes at an MRC Panel
23 Oct 2014
Today Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne announced the recipients of our Clinical Research Capabilities and Technologies Initiative, with 23 projects receiving a total of just over £170m. But what exactly are these ‘capabilities’, what do we hope to achieve, and where did all that money come from? Katherine Nightingale takes a closer look.
What do we mean by clinical research capabilities?
It’s about new technologies for clinical research. We’re all familiar with the idea of clinical research being about clinical trials to assess drugs, devices and diagnostics in people. Clinical research is often seen as the end of the ‘pipeline’ from making discoveries in the laboratory to helping patients, but that’s not the whole story.
We want to make clinical research in the UK also about studying disease at the molecular, cellular, organ and whole-body level ― and to do that researchers need new tools. This includes better body-imaging equipment, new technology for monitoring physiology, and ways of analysing the intricacies of disease in cells and tissues. Doing this needs big pieces of kit, as well as resources for building on the equipment in the future and using it in new ways.
Discoveries made in this way might then be fed back ‘into the lab’ or go on to influence further clinical research. The aim is that by funding these technologies, we’ll build on existing infrastructure, and speed up innovation by allowing researchers to explore new areas. [...]
Continue reading: Q&A: The ins and outs of the Clinical Research Capabilities and Technologies Initiative
9 Sep 2014
Moira Whyte (Image: Academy of Medical Sciences)
It’s that time of year when we open up applications for new members of our boards and panels. Here Professor Moira Whyte, Head of Respiratory Medicine at the University of Edinburgh, talks to Katherine Nightingale about her experience being a member of an MRC board ― and the benefits it can have to researchers.
What has your involvement with MRC boards been?
I’ve been a member of Population and Systems Medicine Board (PSMB) for four years and I was Deputy Chair of the panel making decisions about the MRC-NIHR Efficacy and Mechanisms Evaluation Programme for five. Both of those commitments ended this year. As well as this, I’ve been involved in other activities such as evaluating stratified medicine funding calls.
How has being a board member affected your day-to-day work?
The obvious commitment is preparing for and attending the board meetings, which are held three times a year for PSMB. There is also a preliminary stage to each meeting where you read grant applications and comment on them online as part of the triage system. Some of these will be preliminary applications for large grants that the board helps shape, and others will be more standard grant applications.
The number of applications you read can vary, but it takes about a day to do the preliminary reading and then probably another day to prepare for the board meeting. [...]
Continue reading: Q&A: What it takes to be on an MRC board
4 Sep 2014
In July we unveiled a new partnership with seven pharmaceutical companies to share deprioritised compounds for research in new disease areas. Here Chris Watkins, the MRC’s Director of Translational Research and Industry, explains how the collaboration came about and the role it plays in the MRC’s strategy for collaborating with industry.
One of the big challenges in medical research is understanding the biology of human disease. But there’s a problem with that. It’s not surprising that the best way of understanding human disease is to study it in people, using molecules where you have an idea of how they will work and which you know are safe to give to study participants.
But these molecules are mainly developed by industry, once they’re pretty confident that they might become treatments. So how do you gain the evidence about the disease mechanism in the first place? You need access to the molecules. That’s exactly what the current drug discovery landscape needs, and what the partnership we announced is aiming to do. [...]
Continue reading: Collaborating with compounds
14 Feb 2014
How can we support older workers?
What will your working life be like in 30 years? Katie Finch, Programme Manager of the Lifelong Health and Wellbeing (LLHW) scheme, explains how a new model for building research partnerships could help find the answer.
The UK’s workforce is ageing. Recent Government changes to retirement age and state pensions mean that many more of us will be working later into our lives than we might have expected.
But can older people continue to cope with the physical and mental demands of their work? The truth is, we don’t really know; many of the challenges that working in older age will present for both employers and workers are poorly understood.
To tackle this uncharted territory, we needed a new way of working – multidisciplinary research conducted in the real world of employment. [...]
Continue reading: A workshop on working: a first for the MRC
14 Feb 2014
Children born today may have to wait until their late 70s until they can claim a pension. But how can we extend our working lives in a way that is both healthy and practical? David Armstrong, Professor of Medicine and Sociology at King’s College London and Chair of the LLHW Advisory Group of Experts, explains how a new set of funding should help researchers work that out.
It’s not news that as a population we are living longer; barely a day goes by without reference to the country’s ageing population. A number of factors have contributed to this, from changing fertility patterns in the last century, to dramatic increases in life expectancy over the past few decades because of better healthcare and nutrition.
But this good news is counterbalanced by some bad news. Children born today could expect to live until they are 100, but they may also be expected to work until they are over 70. This is because the economic and social costs of an ageing population are paid for by the younger working population, which is declining as a proportion of the population as it ages. [...]
Continue reading: Extending working lives
31 Oct 2013
Kim Graham (Image copyright: Kim Graham)
What’s it like to hold the purse strings for science funding? Professor Kim Graham, a member of the MRC Neuroscience and Mental Health Board (NMHB) and researcher at Cardiff University, gives us an insight into what being an MRC board member involves, from the seemingly endless reviewing of grants to the biscuit-laden meetings.
After four years, I’ll be finishing my stint on the NMHB board in March 2014. I’m looking forward to vacating the hot seat for someone else, but also sad to be saying goodbye to the wonderful colleagues that have made the past few years so enjoyable.
Reflecting on these experiences I realised how little information is available about this mysterious process to which UK researchers submit their scientific works of art. [...]
Continue reading: Above board: musings on being an MRC board member
17 Jul 2013
How can we develop new drugs and get them to people more quickly? At the MRC’s Open Council meeting last week, a lot of the discussion focused on how the changing environment for the pharmaceutical industry means we need new models for drug discovery, and much closer working between academic and industry researchers. Katherine Nightingale rounds up the discussion.
There was a time when pharmaceutical companies produced new drugs at a steady rate. They invested in the research and development (R&D) of drugs, occasionally producing ‘blockbusters’ which could treat many people, and making enough profit to inject back into R&D. It took around 10–15 years to develop a drug and, while potential drugs often failed to jump the hurdles of clinical trials, there were enough in the pipeline to keep things going.
But, as we heard at the Open Council meeting last week, now that’s simply not the case: fewer and fewer new drugs are being developed, and it’s taking longer and getting more expensive to produce them. The patents have run out on many blockbuster drugs, meaning that pharma companies generate less revenue to plough back into R&D. And as we learn more about disease, the treatments that are produced are more specific to particular groups of patients, meaning that the markets for individual drugs are smaller. [...]
Continue reading: Understanding industry
28 Feb 2013
This week as part of our Centenary celebrations we awarded the MRC Millennium Medal to two scientists whose pioneering research has led to entirely new drugs for patients, as well as brought economic revenue to the UK. Here Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills Dr Vince Cable reflects on the importance of long-term funding of research for people’s health and quality of life, and the UK’s life sciences sector.
Yesterday I had the honour of hosting the MRC Millennium Medal Ceremony, at which the organisation recognised the innovative contributions of Sir Phillip Cohen and Sir Greg Winter to their respective fields of protein phosphorylation and humanised antibodies.
Both Sir Philip and Sir Greg began their careers as laboratory-based scientists carrying out fundamental research, only to discover unheralded therapeutic possibilities in the course of their work. In the mid-1970s, no-one could have anticipated the clinical potential of protein phosphorylation, a process now targeted by 24 licensed drugs, with global sales of £18 billion in 2011. Meanwhile, antibody therapies are now used widely for diseases such as breast cancer (including the drug Herceptin) and autoimmune conditions such as multiple sclerosis. [...]
Continue reading: Funding research for health, wealth and happiness
20 Nov 2012
Steve Bates (Copyright: BIA)
Steve Bates, Chief Executive of the BioIndustry Association, the UK trade association for innovative bioscience companies, explains why he’s impressed with the MRC/TSB Biomedical Catalyst, from its straightforward application process to the encouraging signs already seen from investors.
The announcement this month of almost £40 million research funding under the first full round of the Biomedical Catalyst, which aims to accelerate research through the ‘valley of death’ and deliver new therapies to patients, is a welcome boost to the UK bioscience sector.
Of that figure, the Technology Strategy Board (TSB) awarded almost £30 million to 22 business-led projects aiming to develop products and technologies in areas where there is unmet medical need.
By backing companies in this way, the Government is demonstrating its commitment to the bioscience sector and helping to attract additional private finance for medical research. Now that the awards have been made, with MRC money going to academic-led projects and TSB money to industry, there is an opportunity to take stock, examine how the process has worked and look ahead to the future awards. [...]
Continue reading: Round one: reflections on the Biomedical Catalyst