Oxford is one of 28 sites that will benefit from over £160 million awarded over five years to expand early phase clinical research for the benefit of NHS patients.
The National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) announced the funding for its Clinical Research Facilities on Monday (28 February). The NIHR Oxford Clinical Research Facility is one of five new facilities and will be hosted by Oxford University Hospitals (OUH) NHS Foundation Trust. The Oxford Health Clinical Research Facility was also awarded funding.
CRFs support the delivery of early translational and experimental medicine research, from studies testing new treatments in patients for the very first time (first-in-human trials) through to early safety and efficacy trials (Phase II trials). They provide dedicated purpose-built facilities and expertise for the delivery of high-intensity studies funded by the NIHR, charities, the life sciences industry and other organisations.
The Oxford Experimental Medicine Clinical Research Facility, based at the Churchill Hospital, will act as the hub of the Oxford CRF. It provides a resource for early phase, experimental research across the University of Oxford’s Medical Sciences Division. The EMCRF is central to the clinical translational strategy of the Oxford Biomedical Research Centre (BRC), providing service to all specialities in the BRC Themes.
Professor Duncan Richards, Director of the NIHR Oxford CRF and the EMCRF, commented: “This is a welcome opportunity to become part of the NIHR CRF Network. It represents an important new resource to support clinical translation across the University’s Medical Sciences Division.
“The new facilities and collaboration with other capabilities in Oxford enhances our ability to deliver a wider range of early phase studies for the benefit of patients. Training and developing a new generation of doctors, nurses and allied health professionals in early phase experimental medicine trials is also core to our mission and we welcome NIHR’s support for this.”
Professor Helen McShane, Director of the NIHR Oxford BRC, said: “This announcement is very welcome, as it will allow Oxford to expand the early phase clinical trials we conduct – much of it with Oxford BRC funding – that can be translated into tangible life-changing benefits for NHS patients. We also see it as a great opportunity to develop the skills and experience of young researchers in carrying out early phase experimental medicine trials.”
OUH has been collaborating closely on the establishment of the new facility, and last year gave a grant to the university towards the operational costs and equipment at the CRF and to support refurbishment on hospital sites to create dedicated facilities for clinical trials.
OUH Chief Executive Officer Dr Bruno Holthof said: “Our NHS Trust and the university have a great track record of working in partnership to deliver improvements in diagnosis and treatment for a range of condition, most evidently during the COVID-19 pandemic. The creation of this CRF strengthens our shared clinical research infrastructure even further, allowing us to test new therapies that will ultimately benefit our patients.”
Existing CRF facilities across the country have provided faster access for patients to novel treatments, supported economic growth, and played a crucial role in the COVID-19 response.
NIHR CRFs are a key part of the UK’s early-stage clinical research infrastructure and play an important role in making the country a global hub for life sciences. Combined with the NIHR Clinical Research Network and its pivotal role in delivering Phase II and III trials, the NIHR supports research delivery across all phases of clinical research.
The NIHR has increased its funding for CRFs by £49 million in this round of funding, which it says is a signal of its aim to increase its work with the life sciences industry. These CRFs, which will run from 2022 to 2027, will also play a key role in realising the ambition in the vision for the future of UK clinical research delivery to bolster the delivery of innovative trials across all phases, all treatment types and all conditions.
The NIHR CRFs have an expanded remit to support skills and workforce development, to grow expertise in delivering early translational and experimental medicine studies. This remit covers both people who lead and design trials and people in the essential supporting roles that deliver the research on the ground.
Professor Lucy Chappell, Chief Executive of the NIHR and Chief Scientific Adviser to the Department of Health and Social Care, said: “The NIHR’s CRFs scheme has been a key force in translational research across England, helping to position the nation as internationally competitive in early-stage clinical research.
“This new funding, a 43% increase, will allow the CRFs to continue to drive forward innovation in experimental medicine and support translation of exciting discoveries into new treatments for patients.”
Minister for Innovation, Lord Kamall, said: “Clinical research has been vital in our fight against COVID-19 and in saving thousands of lives – whether through the rapid creation of vaccines or the identification of life-saving treatments like dexamethasone.
“Funding more CRFs across the country means we can continue to build on this innovation to transform our health service and ensure the NHS is able to deliver world-class care. As we build back better from the pandemic, I am committed to ensuring the UK remains a world leader in diverse, ground-breaking research.”