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Multi-million pound funding to improve study and treatment of disease

4 June 2008

Multi-million pound funding will set up small groups of patients to help academics, clinicians and industry come together in the battle against disease.


More than seven million pounds in funding has been awarded to researchers in an unprecedented initiative to create small, extensively defined groups of patients to help detect, treat or prevent disease. The cohorts in this pilot study are in areas of high unmet need or where there are bottle-necks in turning research into therapies.


Sir Leszek Borysiewicz, the MRC’s Chief Executive said: “The Patient Research Cohorts Initiative will set up the infrastructure to look closely at groups of patients with a particular disease whose symptoms are closely matched. This approach will provide new insights into disease processes and foster early exploratory trials - involving the pharmaceutical and biotech industry - of new and promising treatments.”


Sir Leszek added: “By investing in this recruitment and characterisation programme now, partnerships between industry, academia, charities, the NHS and patients can be forged and strengthened, so that future studies will get up and running more quickly. This is an exciting and new way to improve how we fight diseases.”


The initiative forms a key part of an overall strategy for translational research under the auspices of MRC/NIHR Translational Medicine Board.


Funding for the pilot has come from the Medical Research Council (MRC) and the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) in England and the health research departments in Scotland and Wales.


Professor Sally Davies, Director General of Research and Development at the Department of Health said: “We are pleased as the NIHR to contribute under the leadership of the MRC. This initiative is significant because the partnerships created will enable more targeted therapies, new diagnostics and novel preventative measures to be developed more quickly. That will bring benefits for patients, the nation as a whole and encourage companies to innovate in the UK."


Professor Sir John Savill, Scottish Government Chief Scientist for Health, said "Scotland is delighted to participate in this important initiative, particularly as this will have long term benefit for both children and adults".


Dr Tony Jewel, Chief Medical Officer for Wales, said: “I am delighted that the Wales Office of Research and Development is able to support this important initiative. The active collaboration of the funding partners, and the quality and range of the successful applications, offer the prospect of very real advances in health research for the benefit of all.”


Industry strongly supported the creation of the programme. The panel which awarded the funding consisted of a range of clinical, methodological and statistical experts, including those nominated by the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry and the Bio Industry Association, and lay representatives. Thirteen cohorts of a total value of £7.25million across England, Scotland and Wales were funded. The portfolio of research will look at a range of common and rare diseases such as Type 2 Diabetes, the lung disease Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), Neuromuscular Mitochondrial Disease, and cohorts of adults and children.


One of the members of the panel which chose the successful grants was Dr Harsukh Parmar from AstraZeneca. He said: “This is a very important initiative for patients, the academic clinical research community and industry since it will, for the first time, allow patients to be characterised in well defined cohorts that will speed up recruitment and identify better diagnostics, biomarkers, treatments that will have a significant impact in clinical care and future research methodology.”


Dr Philip Wright, Director of Science and Technology at the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) said: "The UK-based pharmaceutical industry is committed to developing more effective treatments and providing the right medicine for the right patient at the right time. The Patient Research Cohorts initiative is welcomed as it will allow further understanding of different diseases and patient responses, which in turn will lead to the development of innovative new medicines and ultimately improved treatments for patients."


Notes to editors:

For further information, please contact the MRC press office

MRC Press office
Telephone: 020 7637 6011


The awarded cohorts met the following criteria:

  • Addresses a very important disease burden/unmet need/research bottleneck nationally and internationally
  • Likely to be very highly productive and used for numerous studies and have a very high impact on the relevant medical field
  • Came from an excellent team with strong links to industry and academia, which proposes an excellent phenotyping plan and access strategy  
  • Has very sound governance and clear and equitable access arrangements and has considered issues around termination and augmentation of the cohort, as well as disease progression
  • The size of the cohort was robustly justified


To ensure the success of this initiative, all funded cohorts will be monitored annually by a group derived from the funding panel.


The funded cohorts:

Type 2 diabetes in childhood: building a platform to support novel intervention strategies; Professor Timothy Barrett; University of Birmingham


Bipolar -II Disorder; Professor Ian Nicol Ferrier; Newcastle University


Wessex severe asthma cohort; Dr Peter Hugo Howarth; University of Southampton


Refractory Juvenile Myoclonic Epilepsy Cohort (ReJuMEC); Dr Anthony Guy Marson; University of Liverpool


Rapidly evolving multiple sclerosis: opening the window of therapeutic opportunity; Dr Paolo A Muraro; Imperial College of Science, Technology & Medicine


United Kingdom Primary Sjogren’s Syndrome Registry; Dr Wan Fai Ng; Newcastle University


Pathobiology of Early Arthritis Cohort; Professor Costantino Pitzalis; Queen Mary, University of London


National studies of kidney disease in childhood and adolescence; Dr Moin Saleem; University of Bristol


Characterisation of the United Kingdom thrombotic thrombocytopenic purpura (TTP) patient cohort; Dr Marie Scully; UCL (University College London)


A Population-based Ankylosing Spondylitis [PAS] cohort; Dr Stefan Siebert; Swansea University


The MRC Centre for Translational Research in Neuromuscular Disease Mitochondrial Disease Patient Cohort (UK); Professor Douglass Turnbull; Newcastle University


The London COPD Exacerbation Cohort; Professor Jadwiga Anna Wedzicha; UCL (University College London)


The Paediatric-Onset Inflammatory Bowel Disease Cohort and Treatment Study; Dr David Wilson; University of Edinburgh


The Medical Research Council funds excellent science with the aim of improving human health. Its work ranges from science at the molecular level to public health research carried out in universities, hospitals and a network of units and institutes. The MRC works closely with the Health Departments, the National Health Service and industry to take account of the public’s needs. The results have led to some of the most significant discoveries in medical science and benefited millions of people in the UK and around the world.


The National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) was launched on the 1 April 2006 following the publication of the Government's strategy Best Research for Best Health: A new National Health Research Strategy in January 2006. The strategy outlines the direction that NHS research will take to build a vibrant and world-class research environment in England. The Institute is being established on a phased basis as each of its key work areas are introduced. It will provide the framework through which we will position, manage and maintain the research, research staff and infrastructure of the NHS in England. Its work will focus on meeting the needs of the research community, patients and the public. Visit the National Institute for Health Research at


The MRC/NIHR Translational Medicine Board was set up to facilitate the coordination of current activities and new initiatives relating to the translation of research for the benefit of patients.  The Board is chaired by Sir Alex Markham, Professor of Medicine at the University of Leeds.


The Chief Scientist Office (CSO) is the division of the Scottish Government Health Directorates which supports and promotes high quality research aimed at improving the services offered by NHSScotland, and the health of the people of Scotland. For more information see


The Wales Office of Research and Development for Health and Social Care (WORD) is part of the Welsh Assembly Government’s Department of Public Health and Health Professions. The strategic aim of WORD is to support the generation of high quality evidence to underpin policy and practice in health and social care in Wales, for the benefit of patients and the public. To meet this aim, WORD develops, in consultation with partners, policy on research and development to reflect the health and social care priorities of the Welsh Assembly Government. WORD also commissions and directly funds research and development activity and contract manages projects and initiatives to ensure that the highest standards are met.

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