By Professor Graham Lord, Director of the NIHR Biomedical Research Centre at Guy’s and St Thomas’ and King’s College London and Professor Matthew Hotopf, Director of the NIHR Biomedical Research Centre at South London and Maudsley and King’s College London
It’s been ten years since the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) first established the Biomedical Research Centres (BRCs), a national network of clinical academic partnerships which turn scientific discoveries into medical advances for clinical practice.
We have the privilege of heading up two of the UK’s NIHR BRCs at Guy’s and St Thomas’ and South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trusts, which are both run with our academic partner, King’s College London. It has been a great honour to have played a leading role in advances made in the last decade, seeing real examples of research moving out of laboratories and into the clinic.
At the Maudsley BRC, we have pioneered new treatments for mental disorders and dementia – such as the surprising development of a new drug derived from one of the components of cannabis which shows great promise as a treatment for psychosis, and which is now being tested in large clinical trials. We’ve pioneered the use of informatics and artificial intelligence in health research, and we’ve developed a world-leading programme of research led by service users.
While the achievements of our colleagues and partners in the last decade are to be celebrated – and the examples given above are just a tiny selection from the formidable body of work that we’ve developed with NIHR BRC funding – there is still more to be done.
This is why the NIHR’s continued commitment to the UK’s BRCs is so important. It’s unlikely that you’ll read about all the work Biomedical Research Centres do in any newspapers –yet it is indeed something to be welcomed and celebrated.
Nationally the BRCs have been allocated £816 million over the next five years in funding from the NIHR. The support will see the creation of new centres specialising in lifestyle diseases, dementia, and more. Our BRCs have together received £130 million, the third consecutive NIHR award our BRCs have received, to allow us to support ground-breaking research for another five years.
As part of King’s Health Partners Academic Health Sciences Centre, we are fortunate to be able to exploit the connections and resources that being part of a wider research partnership offers to us, as well as the inspiring colleagues and shared research facilities offered by our individual NHS and academic organisations.
Moreover, the close relationship between our BRCs means that with the next five years of funding, we’ll be able to focus on some exciting new research priorities, in addition to continuing and expanding on what we’ve achieved in the last decade.
For both of our BRCs, it’s become clear that understanding the interface between mental and physical health is a fundamental priority in improving our patients’ health and wellbeing. We are uniquely placed to address this challenge together, and the funding we’ve received for the next five years will allow us to make a concerted effort to break new ground in this field.
At the Maudsley BRC, we’ll be exploring how new technologies such as mobile devices and artificial intelligence can be used to improve people’s mental and physical health, and how genomics can provide new insights into mental disorders. We’ll also be finding out whether lessons from research into drug addictions and eating disorders could give us new insight into the lifestyle factors which are responsible for so much disease burden in the UK and elsewhere – smoking, drinking and obesity – and beginning new work understanding pain disorders, a major health burden on the UK population.
Over the next five years, the Guy’s and St Thomas’ BRC will consolidate and expand our research activity into nine themes to include new work on women and children’s health, regenerative medicine and cellular therapies, and oral health. We will continue to conduct pioneering world-first clinical trials across all of our research areas, while also developing our state-of-the-art research infrastructure to better support our dedicated researchers to discover new disease biomarkers and develop innovative treatments for our patients.
A decade can feel like a long time – in 2007, Gordon Brown was the UK’s new Prime Minister, the iPhone was a brand new invention, and the ban on smoking in public places had just been introduced in England and Wales. But in many ways this sense of distance reinforces the astonishing progress which has been made in the last decade of biomedical research supported by the NIHR. We are enormously excited about working together, and with our colleagues across the NIHR and beyond, to bring real benefits to patients’ lives in the next five years.