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Initiatives in data science research

Over the last six years, the MRC – in partnership with other UKRI councils, charities, and government departments – have committed over £110m across several initiatives that are aimed at supporting data science research, infrastructure and scientists. Our ultimate aim is to build a sustainable capability in health and biomedical data science in the UK.

Currently, we are leading a consortium of funders to create the Health Data Research UK. Both the Farr Institute and the Medical Bioinformatics Initiative will be concluding their activities between 2018 and 2019. Details of the main investments supported by the MRC are described on this page.

Health Data Research UK

Health Data Research UK (HDR UK) was established through an initial £54m partnership investment over five years. The partnership is made up of the MRC, the British Heart Foundation, Chief Scientist Office (Scotland), the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), Health and Care Research Wales, National Institute of Health Research (England), and Wellcome. Harnessing the power of the NHS along with associated health and biomedical data in the UK, HDR UK will develop and apply cutting-data science approaches necessary to address the most significant health research challenges that patients and the public face.

Below is a short video clip of the institute Director, Professor Andrew Morris, discussing formation of HDR UK and why it is necessary:


The institute will develop the capacity (people and skills) and methods to accelerate the pace and scale of health and biomedical data science to deliver a step change in UK capabilities.

Open, inclusive and independent, the institute will deliver world-leading research, driven by cutting-edge data science, focused on the most pressing health research challenges. It will have a mission to:

  • provide national leadership to advance the UK research base
  • develop interdisciplinary skills and capacity
  • develop cross cutting analytical methods, tools and standards
  • develop secure interoperable research environments and data flows
  • develop partnerships to facilitate the rapid application of the institute’s research.

The institute’s research will maximise the use of biological, clinical, environmental and social data sources, addressing research challenges that require a depth and scale of data that cannot be achieved through individual research programmes. Public engagement and involvement will be placed at the heart of the institute’s research.

Structure and institute sites

The HDR UK is geographically distributed across a number of centres of excellence throughout the UK, with its core budget and scientific direction under the control of the Director. This organisational structure will capitalise on the existing distributed strengths in health and biomedical data science, computer science, statistics and mathematics, and the UK-wide infrastructure and capabilities established through the Farr Institute and MRC Medical Bioinformatics Awards.

The institute will connect and co-ordinate national research programmes across its sites, providing a cohesive data science strategy and delivering benefit for the wider UK research community. It will also establish mutually beneficial partnerships with other UK research institutes and programmes, as well as charity, industry and international collaborators.

In April 2018, six Substantive Sites across the UK were awarded £30m to use data science to address challenging healthcare issues. The successful HDR UK sites are:

  • Cambridge: Wellcome Sanger Institute and European Bioinformatics Institute (EMBL-EBI).
  • London: UCL, Imperial College London, King’s College London, Queen Mary University of London, and The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.
  • Midlands: University of Birmingham, University of Leicester, University of Nottingham, University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust.
  • Oxford: University of Oxford
  • Scotland: University of Edinburgh, University of Aberdeen, University of Dundee, University of Glasgow, University of St Andrews, University of Strathclyde.
  • Wales/Northern Ireland: Swansea University, Queen’s University Belfast.

For more information about the establishment of these Substantive Sites, please read more on the HDR UK news story.


On Thursday 23 March 2017, the MRC announced the appointment of Professor Andrew Morris as the Director of HDR UK. Professor Morris was chosen by expert and lay panels following an open international search led by the MRC. He is a world leader in the field whose research has advanced the use of health data science in the UK and beyond. Professor Morris is supported by Dr Rhoswyn Walker who was appointed as the Chief Strategy Officer and Professor Peter Diggle who was appointed as Director of Training.

On 26-27 April 2018, over 80 colleagues from the six Substantive Sites, funders and partners attended a Scientific Retreat to review the vision and strategy of HDR UK. A copy of the summary of event can be found in the HDR retreat precis.

The Farr Institute of Health Informatics Research

In 2012 we brought together a consortium of 10 funders to establish e-health data science research centres across the UK. A total of £19m was awarded to four centres based at University College London, The University of Manchester, Swansea University and University of Dundee. We invested a further £20m to create Farr Institute of Health Informatics Research in May 2013. For find out more about the Farr Institute, please visit their website. Please note that the Farr Institute will be concluding its activities in December 2018.


Medical bioinformatics initiative

The MRC supports a large informatics portfolio that includes clinical, population, imaging, molecular (including genetic), cellular, tissue and other complex phenotypic data. Our vision is to bring this data together to better understand the causes of disease and to improve health care.

In early 2014 we announced £39m to support six strategic awards to combine clinical, health and bioinformatics data. Funds support skills development, career opportunities; as well as the development of support tools, technologies and infrastructure for large-scale data use. The awardees included:

  • Leeds MRC Medical Bioinformatics Centre
  • University of Oxford Big Data Institute
  • MRC/UVRI Medical Informatics Centre at the MRC/UVRI Uganda Research Unit
  • The MRC Consortium for Medical Microbial Bioinformatics led by Warwick
  • The Medical Bioinformatics partnership led by Imperial College London
  • University College London Partners, which includes the Francis Crick Institute

ELIXIR partnership

ELIXIR is a €200m initiative that aims to integrate for the first time the large amounts of molecular and cellular research data produced throughout Europe. It will define how to distribute and manage this data, how to secure Europe-wide investment in data science and how to coordinate training and standards development. Initially funded by the MRC, BBSRC and the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), the UK arm is focused on providing training for research and computer scientists in data management and the use of tools for interpreting large datasets. Find out more on their website.

Skills Development Fellowships

Building skills and capacity has been a long-standing priority for us, including health and biomedical data science. MRC Skills Development Fellowships will support training for very early career researchers in, or individuals changing disciplines to, MRC priority areas for capacity-building at this level.

Learn more about our Skills Development Fellowshipsps.

Centres for doctoral training

We have partnered with the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) to support three multi-disciplinary Centres for Doctoral Training (CDTs). One CDT based in University of Oxford and focuses on systems approaches to biomedical science, one based in University of Warwick and focuses on mathematics for real-world systems, and the third being a joint CDT and focuses on next generation statistical science. The CDTs will strengthen UK skills and capability at the interface between biomedical, health and physical sciences. For more general information about CDT, please visit our Doctoral Training Partnership web page.