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£230 million for technologies to revolutionise research into disease

23 Oct 2014

The Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, has today (Thursday 23 October) announced that a partnership led by the Medical Research Council (MRC) will invest over £230 million in a range of revolutionary technologies aimed at identifying the causes of diseases such as cancer and dementia, and dramatically speeding up diagnosis and treatment. The state-of-the-art technologies will be used to find out how differences in the cellular and molecular make-up of people affect how they respond to diseases and to treatment.

The Clinical Research Infrastructure Initiative will bring together funding from UK Government, devolved administrations, Arthritis Research UK, British Heart Foundation, the Wellcome Trust and Cancer Research UK, to advance clinical research in 23 key projects at centres across the country, including research teams at 15 universities. Many of these will involve partnerships with pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies.

A number of the funded projects will enable the UK to maintain its position at the forefront of medical imaging technology. The UK has played a major role in pioneering the use of these technologies in the last 30-40 years and is home to many of the leading experts in the field. The funding will bring some of the most sophisticated imaging technologies in the world into UK clinical research and then develop the techniques still further using the UK’s expertise in this area.

Combining imaging technologies such as 7Tesla ‘ultrahigh-field’ MRI with other innovative research techniques will give scientists an ever more detailed view of what’s happening within the body. There are around 40 machines worldwide but only two of these are in the UK (Oxford and Nottingham). The CRII funding will provide two new scanners and upgrade the Nottingham machine.

The technology is particularly important in brain research because it can look at small changes in the structure, function and chemistry of the brain even before diseases such as dementia start.

Cardiff University has secured a total of £6.7m, including £3.4m from the Welsh Government, for the same 7Tesla MRI technology. This will be used to investigate the causes and treatments of dementia, but also other brain conditions such as schizophrenia, Parkinson's disease, Huntington's disease and multiple sclerosis. The proposed research will also link the discovery of genetic factors associated with brain disease to detailed assessments of brain structure and function made with the 7T MRI system. This will give a clearer picture of underlying disease mechanisms that will in turn suggest new treatments.

Teams from the University of Leeds and the University of York are developing a new imaging method (SABRE) that has the potential to increase the signal in an MRI image by up to 100,000 times. The £7.6m investment (including co-funding from British Heart Foundation and Arthritis Research UK) will magnetically ‘label’ specific molecules so that they can be visualised as they pass through the body without changing their role. With this technique it is possible to label both drugs and substances that occur naturally in the body, making the method widely applicable. Ultimately the method is expected to work with any hospital MRI scanner. The technique could be applied to patients with heart disease, cancer and joint disease within five years and will help speed up the development of new drugs.

A team from the Institute of Cancer Research, London hope to revolutionise radiation treatment by developing a new type of machine called an MR-Linac (to be installed at the Royal Marsden Hospital). The machine combines a state of-the-art radiation machine (called a linear accelerator) with an MRI scanner. The machine could not only provide highly accurate visualisation of a tumour, but will do so at the same time as each fraction of radiation therapy is delivered, tracking the movements of a tumour in real-time within a patient while they are being given radiation and allowing the tumour to be targeted accurately. This will give both clinicians and patients greater confidence that the treatment will be effective and with fewer side effects. 

Speaking in Exeter, Chancellor George Osborne, said “The UK is already a world leader in science and research, which is why at Budget, I protected science spending. Today we go a step further by announcing £150 million of new investment in clinical research infrastructure. The funding will go to 23 truly innovative projects from across the UK today that represent the best of British ingenuity and scientific exploration. The Government, charities, universities and industry will be working together to advance our knowledge in combating the biggest medical challenges of our time.”

Professor Sir John Savill, Chief Executive of the MRC, said: “The Government entrusted £150 million of funding to this initiative. With generous contributions from Arthritis Research UK, the British Heart Foundation and other partners, we have been able to invest over £230 million in a collaboration that will catalyse innovation and advance our knowledge in completely new areas of research.”

Life Sciences Minister George Freeman said: “We want to make the UK the best place in the world for life sciences. Building on our existing research infrastructure this investment will speed up the innovation of experimental medicine, strengthen partnerships with industry and charities and boost our economic growth in this exciting sector.”

As part of the Initiative, a £24m investment in Genomics England (made through Queen Mary University of London and partners) was made to support the 100,000 Genomes Project by helping to provide the infrastructure needs to support data analysis and interpretation and make this securely available to doctors and researchers. This was announced by the Prime Minister on the 1 August 2014.


Notes to editors:

For more information about the different projects, please see 

Areas of funding

The MRC invited researchers to apply for funding in three different areas:

Technologies for stratified medicine – The same disease can cause different symptoms and progress differently in different people. People also respond differently to drugs and treatments. Stratified medicine involves grouping together patients whose bodies respond similarly in order to identify and apply treatments that are effective for that group. The earlier this can be done, the more likely the treatment will be effective and side effects less likely. By combining data on the molecular composition of cells and bio-fluids such as urine, images from scans, a patient’s age, gender and other characteristics, researchers hope to find out how best to diagnose a disease, quickly identify the correct treatment, and then monitor progression of the disease.

Case study: A project at the University of Liverpool will investigate why drugs work well for some patients and not others and why some patients experience side effects from medicines.  At the internationally recognised MRC Centre for Drug Safety Science (CDSS), new state-of-the-art technologies funded through this initiative will help identify the best treatments. This will be achieved through investigations using different ‘experimental’ systems ranging from study of how single cells react to a drug, to careful clinical observation of patients.

Dementia research – Research into early detection, improved treatment and ultimately, prevention, of dementias.

Case study: Launched by the MRC last year, the UK Dementias Research Platform is a unique collaboration between industry and academia, creating the world’s largest study group. The UKDP will receive £36.8m to develop the themes of imaging, informatics and stem cells in the field of dementias research. For imaging, a network of new machines that can combine positron emission tomography (PET) – visualising a short-lived radioactive tracer molecule in the body - with MRI images will be established across the UK so that the molecular processes going on inside the brain that cause dementia can be studied. For informatics, many different types of clinical data will be brought together to make them more accessible to researchers. For stem cells, cells from adults with and without dementia will be studied to find out how these cells change as the dementia begins and progresses.

Single-cell genomics - Offering unprecedented access to study how genetic variability and gene expression affect individual cells and cell types, single cell genomics is the next frontier in molecular biology. Researchers aim to isolate and analyse the limited genetic material present within a single cell in order to gain a whole-genome view of genetic variability and gene expression at single-cell level. The field is advancing developmental and disease biology. In cancer research, for example, single cell genomics is helping identify distinct sub-populations of cells within a tumour in order to reveal how they contribute to the disease’s progression.

Case study: Cambridge Single Cell Analysis Clinical Core Facility (SCACCF) this new shared core facility for single cell analysis will serve all major molecular medicine programmes in Cambridge including cancer, neurosciences, immunity and inflammation, infectious diseases, stem cell and regenerative medicine, metabolic medicine and experimental therapeutics. The SCACCF will act as a hub for the UK and will work closely with strategic partners in the Cambridge area (the Babraham Institute, Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, the European Bioinformatics Institute, the MRC Laboratory for Molecular Biology, major pharmaceutical and biotech companies), to bring their different capabilities to bear on clinical research challenges.

How the initiative was funded

The Government provided £150m of capital funding towards the initiative as part of the Spending Review 2013. The funding which was from the ring-fenced health budget, was made available on the basis that the initiative advances the objectives of the DH health budget.

Because the £150m provided by BIS can only be invested in England, additional investment from MRC (£14.8m) has been committed to ensure the UK-wide delivery of the initiative and an additional £650k from Arthritis Research UK, £1.5m from British Heart Foundation and £4.1m from The Welsh Government to provide contributions to resourcing costs and integration support.

In addition to the £171m outlined above, Northern Ireland Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety has committed £750k in support of the application from Queen’s University Belfast.  Around £60m will be contributed by the awarded institutions.

For more information, please contact:

MRC Press Office - 020 7395 2345 (out of hours: 07818 248 297).


  • Categories: Funding
  • Health categories: Cancer, Neurological
  • Strategic objectives: Aim: Picking research that delivers, Aim: Research to people
  • Locations: Belfast, Birmingham, Cambridge, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Liverpool, London, Newcastle, Nottingham, Oxford, Sheffield, Other
  • Type: News article