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Health and care research in Oxford is to receive £122 million in government funding over the next five years to improve diagnosis, treatment and care for NHS patients.

Rows of test tubes

The funding was awarded to the city’s two National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) Biomedical Research Centres (BRC). 

The NIHR Oxford BRC, a partnership between the University of Oxford and Oxford University Hospitals (OUH) NHS Foundation Trust, will receive £86.6m over the next five years to fund 15 research themes.

The NIHR Oxford Health BRC, a partnership between the University and Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust (OHFT), will receive £35.4m to support research across 11 themes. The award will create a network of centres of excellence in brain health across NHS and university sites in England.

The Oxford BRC - whose research covers a range of health themes including cancer, genomics, vaccines, diabetes, cardiovascular medicine and microbiology - was one of the five original BRCs created in 2007 and has just celebrated its 15th anniversary. The Oxford Health BRC was created in 2017 as a centre specialising in mental health and dementia.

The BRCs bring together academics and clinicians to translate scientific breakthroughs into potential new treatments, diagnostics and medical technologies that benefit NHS patients. 

Professor Helen McShane, Director of the NIHR Oxford BRC, said: “This funding is a recognition of the high calibre work done by our researchers in recent years, exemplified by establishing emergency stroke clinics, showing some shoulder surgery is not needed, and optimising the use of new treatments for asthma and other airway diseases, as well as all the work during the COVID-19 pandemic, where the development of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine and the RECOVERY treatment trial for people with severe COVID-19, among other important trials, has saved millions of lives.

“As well as innovating to improve the treatment and care of NHS patients, our world-class scientists attract significant investment from commercial and charitable funders and our research shows that the BRCs play an important role in boosting the local economy, as well as the UK life science industry.”

Professor John Geddes, Director of the NIHR Oxford Health BRC, said: “The successful BRC application was a result of a huge amount of work involving patients and public, researchers and clinicians across Oxford and our partners across the country. It builds on the success of the current centre which has, over the past five years, delivered new psychological and digital treatments, advances in drug discovery and new ways of integrating research and clinical care. 

“The new award now provides us with a wonderful opportunity to transform care for mental and brain health and wellbeing across the whole country and, actually, the world. We can now translate the best research from UK biomedical science, data science and engineering, social science and arts and the humanities for the benefit of clinical care and population health. 

“We are enormously grateful to the NIHR and the International Panel for generously supporting our ambitious plans and vision. We are now looking forward to co-designing with patients and public powerful new approaches that can be tested, refined and then implemented across the NHS and beyond.”

Professor Meghana Pandit, OUH Chief Executive Officer, commented: “Oxford is a vibrant academic medical hub, and the spirit of innovation permeates our clinical work, not least because of the presence of so many important University research institutes on our hospital sites. 

“Patients in Oxford have access to the latest cutting-edge treatments and medical techniques which have been developed by BRC-funded scientists. We are, therefore, delighted that the Oxford BRC, and our partners in the Oxford Health BRC, have received substantial funding for the next five years.”

Dr Nick Broughton, Chief Executive of OHFT, said: “I am absolutely delighted that the NIHR has supported our bid by funding projects that aim to improve mental health care and treatment. Today’s research is tomorrow’s care, and this money will enable us to make considerable strides forward with our ambitious programme across the country.

“Our current programme of six scientific themes in mental health research, coupled with two in training and patient and public involvement, has already yielded benefits way beyond Oxford; our work with virtual reality treatments for patients with psychosis being a prime example. 

“With our expanded BRC, now with 11 themes, we will be able to collaborate with many more colleagues in other towns and cities, bringing centres of excellence together in a formidable national network. This vital research infrastructure will work to improve mental health care and treatments in the future.”

Gavin Screaton, Head of the University of Oxford’s Medical Sciences Division, said: “This is terrific news not only for our scientists in Oxford, but ultimately for patients across the UK and worldwide who will benefit from the discoveries and developments this funding enables. 

“From the lab to the bedside, we have shown time and time again that our strong collaboration with our local NHS Trusts through the two BRCs is immensely valuable, and we greatly look forward to our partnership continuing to grow.”

In total, the NIHR has awarded nearly £800 million to 20 Biomedical Research Centres across England, following an open and competitive process judged by international experts and members of the public. As well as supporting research over the next five years in areas such as cancer, mental health, dementia and infectious diseases, the new funding will provide opportunities for a diverse range of professionals to undertake research, expanding research expertise in allied health professionals - such as physiotherapists, radiologists and dietitians - as well as in doctors and nurses.

Professor Lucy Chappell, Chief Executive of the NIHR, said: “Research by NIHR Biomedical Research Centres has led to a number of ground-breaking new treatments, such as new gene therapies for haemophilia and motor neurone disease, the world-first treatment for Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease, a nose-drop vaccine for whooping cough, and the first UK-wide study into the long-term impact of COVID-19.

“This latest round of funding recognises the strength of expertise underpinning health and care research across the country and gives our nation’s best researchers more opportunities to develop innovative new treatments for patients.”

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