The event, which will be held annually, was attended by around 200 academics, healthcare professionals and representatives of industry. Some speakers travelled from as far away as the United States.
The event was opened by Prof Paresh Vyas, Director of the OCH, who recalled that: “The aim of the OCH is to bring research and education in the University closer to the provision of clinical care. We want research and education in our hospital to deliver novel diagnostics and therapeutics for blood disorders, and to pioneer the effective use of blood products.”
The Oxford Centre for Haematology was launched in January with funding from the NIHR Oxford Biomedical Research Centre (BRC). It brings together University of Oxford researchers and clinicians from Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust with the aim of bringing together people working in haematology, along with commercial partners, to improve the understanding and treatment of blood diseases and disorders, and to deliver the best available care to patients.
In his opening remarks, Prof Hugh Watkins, Head of the Radcliffe Department of Medicine and the Oxford BRC’s Theme Lead for Genomics Medicine, described haematology as “a jewel in the crown of medical sciences in Oxford”.
The virtual centre, which is hosted by the university’s Radcliffe Department of Medicine, and embedded within the Nuffield Division of Clinical Laboratory Sciences, provides strategic leadership to represent haematology at the university and OUH, and seeks to ensure that Oxford remains competitive in this field in the UK and abroad.
Prof Vyas is Professor of Haematology at the University’s Radcliffe Department of Medicine and Honorary Consultant Haematologist with OUH. He is the Co-theme Lead for Haematology and Stem Cells, and the Interim Theme Lead for Molecular Diagnostics of the NIHR Oxford Biomedical Research Centre (BRC), whose funding has helped to make the OCH a reality.
He noted that for decades, Oxford has had a very strong science programme in haematology through the MRC Weatherall Institute of Molecular Medicine and the Nuffield Division of Clinical Laboratory Sciences; and great strength in clinical haematology and laboratory haematology, with some 2.2 million patients being treated.
“These activities haven’t always been as closely aligned as they should be, and this is common in many disciplines. What changed the dynamic was money, and money came in the form of the BRC. We were very fortunate to have a blood theme and then a haematology theme, and we’ve made a big contribution to the molecular diagnostics theme,” Prof Vyas said.
Prof Vyas said the OCH wanted to raise funds through philanthropy, and revealed that it had received £600k from Celgene for its first clinical study and £400k from Deutsche Bank for a therapy acceleration programme, which will conduct state-of-the-art analyses on patient samples and innovative clinical trials. It is hoped this programme will accelerate drug approval and best use of drugs and provide new therapies for Oxford patients.
But he said the centre also wanted to spend money to transform patient care. Among its new programmes are a comprehensive biobanking programme, which will go beyond the current extensive myeloid samples to other blood disorders; an £20,000 education fund for nurses and allied health professionals; one DPhil studentship a year; £30,000 for pump-priming projects; and a £10k travel fund.
Dr Bruno Holthof, OUH Chief Executive, told the gathering that he hoped initiatives like the OCH would improve patient outcomes in the NHS, and so deliver better value for money.
“I’m particularly keen on seeing the breaking down of barriers between academia, the NHS and industry partners that are going to be part of this endeavour,” he said. “The incentives of these partners are slightly different, but they are overlapping incentives. I hope this initiative will contribute to finding new treatments for our patients.”