The Priority Challenges are indicative of the MRC’s strategic assessment of the need to tackle pressing health challenges and opportunities to exploit newly developed scientific expertise.
The four priority challenges are:
- Antimicrobial resistance
- Neurodegeneration, dementia, and mental health
- Regeneration of damaged tissues
The MRC’s commitment to funding the breadth and depth of biomedical research is continued within this sub-set of challenges as it is across the MRC funding portfolio. The following case studies and quantitative data demonstrate the impact of the MRC’s investment into these priority challenges.
Medical products, interventions and clinical trials highlights
Researchers supported via the MRC’s prevention portfolio (awards active since 2006) gave rise to 12 per cent of all medical products reported despite this portfolio only representing five per cent of MRC awards. This highlights the focus this extremely translational portfolio has on developing new interventions. A total of 153 medical products or clinical trials (33 from the NPRI awards) have been reported as outcomes of MRC-funded research. These products are predominantly classed in four medical product types (see Figure 12), with 80 per cent of all products reported across the total MRC portfolio categorised as ‘Preventative – physical/behaviour risk modification’ are attributed to prevention awards (49 of 62 total, 19 from NPRI awards). It is perhaps not surprising that the majority of products aimed at disease prevention are being developed by projects in the prevention portfolio.
In addition, products reported from the prevention portfolio include a number of interventions with a specific demographic or geographical focus, including:
- ‘Shape Up Sister’ promoting regular exercise among black women in London
- ‘Life Lab’ aimed at school children to widen health literacy and awareness of long term health behaviours
- ‘Southampton initiative for health’ changing health perspectives for families attending Sure Start Children Centres in Southampton
- An intervention specific to smokeless tobacco users, favoured by South Asian communities.
Such bespoke studies, developed to focus on specific sociological groups, can lead to improved outcomes where standardised interventions are potentially less effective.
Prevention research influences NHS Diabetes Prevention Programme
The NHS Diabetes Prevention Programme was launched in 2016, and will eventually cover 26 million people. As of November 2018, over 78,000 people have already taken up the programme. Two researchers funded through the MRC-led National Prevention Research Initiative have been influential in contributing to this important programme, demonstrating a compelling example of prevention research being translated into healthcare to improve human lives.
Daily pill to prevent HIV infection: the PROUD Study
The ground-breaking results from the PROUD study , published in 2016, indicate that a treatment known as PrEP is highly protective for a high-risk group of people, reducing the risk of HIV infection by 86%. PrEP is calculated to save the NHS over £1 billion over an 80-year period (£12.5m per annum). As a result, in July 2017 NHS Scotland has made PrEP available through sexual health clinics and both Wales and Northern Ireland have started offering PrEP through pilot trials. In 2016, NHS England launched a PrEP Impact Trial with the aim of recruiting 10,000 participants in three years.
Universal vaccine for HIV infections
Scientists have reported the results of the first randomised clinical trial to test a novel strategy for curing HIV infections. Although the team found no difference between the HIV vaccine and those receiving standard treatment, the trial paves the way for testing different combinations of therapies to tackle the HIV that persists in patients who receive antiretroviral treatment (ART).