Research

Strategic Aim One:

Picking research that delivers

Strategic Aim Two:

Research to people

Strategic Aim Three:

Going global

Strategic Aim Four:

Supporting scientists

Securing impact from medical research

There is compelling evidence that investment in medical research leads to significant improvements in both health and economic prosperity. The UK has a world-leading medical research sector, and research funded by the MRC is a vital part of this success.

The MRC has proven ways of capturing details about the outputs from, and the impact of, MRC-funded research, and securing this impact is a key element of the MRC strategic plan.

Through a transformative translational research agenda we aim to drive innovation, speed up the transfer of the best ideas into new preventive and therapeutic interventions, and improve the return on investment in fundamental research which forms the basis for translation.

This involves further enhancing our knowledge of the fundamental biology of health and disease, including how people vary in the way their disease progresses and how they respond to treatment, as well as supporting the translation of discoveries from fundamental and clinical research into benefits for human health.

Objective

To deliver discovery from data to improve public health and UK wealth; to reshape the medical research and innovation ecosystem to deliver inward investment and promote added value and economic growth; and to deliver fundamental insights that grow medical businesses.

Now

  • We have firmly embedded translational research as a key part of our core business, including the establishment of dedicated funding schemes to support this research.
  • The Biomedical Catalyst, a £180m partnership between the MRC and Innovate UK (formerly the Technology Strategy Board), supports academic and industry scientists to move their research more quickly from discovery to commercialisation.
  • We have revolutionised the way we work with industry, including establishing a ground-breaking compound sharing initiative with AstraZeneca.
  • Working closely with industry we have established disease-specific stratified medicine consortia bringing together the best researchers across the UK to tackle diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and diabetes.
  • We have introduced new funding approaches to support experimental medicine studies in humans to increase mechanistic insights into disease processes.

Future

  • We aim to increase the number of opportunities for commercialisation by expanding the UK academic pipeline of discoveries via the MRC’s high-quality translational research programme. These opportunities will:
    • Attract a greater range, number and value of partnerships with the private sector including the creation of opportunities for investment by industry.
    • Lead to increased leverage of research and development income into the UK.
    • Create new skilled jobs.
    • Increase the movement of ideas from the translational programme into new products and processes.
    • Result in innovations that will improve productivity and save healthcare and other costs across a range of industries and sectors.
  • We aim to drive innovations in the collection, analysis and use of research and patient data, which will translate into improved health interventions and public policies.
  • We aim to take a stratified medicine approach to categorise patients based on genetic and other biological characteristics, which will help to tailor treatments to individuals, improving health outcomes for patients and accelerating drug development by companies.
  • We will increase the range and number of partnerships with the public and non-for profit sector.

How

We will build on our existing translational research schemes and continued investment in fundamental, clinical and population research working ever more closely with industry, Innovate UK (formerly the Technology Strategy Board), charities, and health service partners.

Progress will be facilitated through the increasing availability of safe data including molecular datasets from population cohorts and patients, and NHS health and administrative records.

  • We will drive fundamental research discoveries into new treatments and products, and feed clinical results back to the laboratory, with the aim of achieving better translation in strategically important areas.
  • We will maximise the opportunities for researchers from the academic and industrial sectors to work together, including the use of existing resources and infrastructure.
  • Through the Biomedical Catalyst we, in collaboration with Innovate UK (formerly the Technology Strategy Board), will continue to provide funding to academic researchers and businesses to bridge the ‘valley of death’ — the stage at which ideas, products and technologies must pass proof of concept for clinical trials.
  • We will build on rich genome, phenome, imaging and other information, linked to healthcare data to drive forward our ambitions in stratified medicine in partnership with industry. This will include targeting diseases that are more difficult to deal with and enriching human science through methodologies and tools, including adaptive trial designs and robust biomarkers.
  • Working with the Office for Strategic Coordination of Health Research (OSCHR) partners we will develop ways to integrate new molecular pathology technologies into healthcare, using molecules within tissues or body fluids to diagnose disease. We will use high-throughput ‘omics’ and imaging technologies to improve clinical phenotyping, and feed this information back to inform research.
  • We will target further investment towards experimental medicine approaches, addressing the big challenges in the understanding of disease mechanisms in humans, and engage with industry to stimulate partnerships in this area.
  • We will continue to support partnership initiatives that provide robust evidence to inform health policy and practice (see Lifestyles affecting health).

Making an impact: MRC spin out revolutionises rational drug design

MRC spin out company Heptares Ltd. formed in 2007 and has since built a unique capability for discovering molecules that target G-Protein Coupled Receptors (GPCRs), an important class of drug target that has proven difficult to target in the past. Around 40 per cent of all marketed drugs act on GPCR proteins (including beta blockers for heart conditions and H2 agonists to control stomach acid). Heptares has secured agreements with pharmaceutical companies to study specific GPCRs worth an estimated £450m, and has achieved key milestones in this programme.

Proximity to discovery: Private sector involvement in MRC research is high and rising

MRC data shows that 8.5 per cent of MRC-funded publications have at least one author from industry — significantly higher than the 1.3 per cent that the International Comparative Performance of the UK Research Base: 2011 report states for the UK research base as a whole.

The proportion of private-sector authors on MRC funded, peer-reviewed papers has increased from around 5 per cent in 2006 to almost 7 per cent in 2011 (and we expect this to increase further as our 2011 data is partial).

The ‘proximity to discovery’ is key factor for industry when deciding on locations for investment. For example, the high quality research environment in Cambridge, including the MRC Laboratory for Molecular Biology and Wellcome Trust-MRC Institute of Metabolic Science, were key drivers for AstraZeneca’s decision to invest £330m into a new global research and development centre in Cambridge.