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£15 million boost to mental health research

17 Nov 2017

Mental health research will receive a huge £15 million boost today following the announcement of two new schemes to stimulate expertise, innovation and collaboration in the field. £10 million has been awarded to the MRC as part of the government’s National Productivity Investment Fund (NPIF) to help researchers harness the power of health data for mental health research. In addition, £5 million has been dedicated by the MRC for therapeutic target validation, to help improve the hunt for better treatments for a wide range of mental health conditions.

Mental health problems have a huge impact on the UK’s health, wealth and wellbeing. An estimated one in six of us are affected by mental illness each year in the UK and it costs the economy £70-100 billion annually as a consequence of lost productivity, time off work, social benefits and health care. Strengthening mental health research to minimise its burden on us as individuals and as a society is a key priority for the MRC. It’s crucial that we develop our understanding of the risk and trigger factors for mental illness, how it progresses over a lifetime and develop better, tailored interventions.

The UK holds a rich source of information about our health through world-class population studies and NHS data. But we need better co-ordination and integration of these data assets, linking them across research disciplines from genomics to brain imaging, psychiatry to environmental science, in order to make progress towards new treatments and prevention. Using a similar model to dementia research in the Dementias Platform UK, the MRC hopes to establish a Mental Health Platform UK to better mine this data and accelerate discoveries. £10 million from the government’s NPIF will be crucial in laying the foundations for the Platform, with a series of MRC Mental Health Data Pathfinder Awards which will be made to research organisations with expertise in mental health. These awards will help jump start the sector in preparation for a future Platform, harmonising data and encouraging collaboration. The MRC will work together with health, education and other public services, industry, and other funders, including charities, to link informatics on a large scale to better use and collect information about mental health.

The MRC also plans to invest £5 million in therapeutic target validation in 2018. Before a drug or treatment is even trialled, a great deal of research is needed to find the areas or targets that are promising for new treatments. In mental health research this might not only mean drug targets, but also cognitive, behavioural and/or digital biomarkers. This significant £5 million investment will help to encourage research at these very early stages in the development of treatments, fostering academic-industry partnerships and prompting industry investment in mental health.

Sir John Savill, Chief Executive of the MRC, said:

 “Most of us at some point during our lives will be affected by mental illness, either personally or through family and friends. We know that it has a huge impact on our workforce with knock on implications to our economy. Researchers are keen to understand the complex interplay between biological, psychological, social and environmental factors which influence risk and resilience to mental illness and an individual’s response to treatment. It’s important that we tackle this problem head on and invest in research that makes an impact. By taking advantage of new scientific opportunities and tools, such as health data research, we can transform this research field and offer real hope of new and more effective interventions.”

The MRC Mental Health Data Pathfinder Awards are accepting applications until 18 January 2018. 


  • Categories: Funding
  • Health categories: Mental Health
  • Strategic objectives: Mental health and wellbeing, Life course perspective, Lifestyles affecting health
  • Locations: Other
  • Type: News article