Area of investment and support

Area of investment and support: Clinical and translational research

The aim of MRC’s clinical and translational research is to support and fund innovation that will speed up the transfer of the best ideas from discovery research into new interventions that reach patients, and improve the return on investment in fundamental research.

Partners involved:
Medical Research Council (MRC)

The scope and what we're doing

Translation is the principle of turning fundamental discoveries into improvements in human health and economic benefit.

MRC’s translational aims are to drive innovation, speed up the transfer of the best ideas from discovery research into new interventions that reach patients, and improve the return on investment in fundamental research

We have been working to address bottlenecks and challenges in the translation of health research for more than three decades. Since 2008, MRC has provided directed funding schemes to support early phase, academic-led, translational research projects alongside a spectrum of specific strategic investments and partnerships with other funders and industry.

MRC’s role in the translation pipeline is to unleash innovation providing support across the developmental pathway.

MRC’s core translational research funding schemes aim to pull through the most promising ideas from our boards and the wider discovery research landscape, and support their development and early clinical testing. Once enough evidence is available about the innovations’ potential to de-risk further investment and later stage trials, we work in partnership with the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR), other funders and industry to continue to drive innovations toward adoption, commercialisation and ultimately to patient benefit.

Opportunities, support and resources available

Clinical and translational funding schemes

Targeted funding schemes, designed to take fundamental discoveries through pre-clinical and clinical development to human proof-of-concept studies, are central to our approach to supporting clinical and translational research. We also work in partnership with the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) to drive the later steps of the translational and clinical research pipeline.

The core MRC funded schemes along the developmental pathway are:

Experimental Medicine Panel

The Experimental medicine funding scheme provides support for academically-led experimental medicine projects. These projects must be interventional studies conducted in humans, based round a clearly articulated gap in understanding of human pathophysiology. This scheme aims to produce new mechanistic insights and identify opportunities to modify disease pathways and enable novel therapeutic or diagnostic approaches for future development.

MRC Impact Acceleration Accounts

MRC Impact Acceleration Accounts provide institutions with locally administered, flexible funding to support a diverse portfolio of short-term and well-defined translational projects. The scheme is designed to accelerate the transition from discovery research to translational developments by supporting preliminary work to establish the viability of an approach. It is also intended to rapidly de-risk projects across the whole translational pathway so that they become competitive for substantial funding for development.

Developmental Pathway Funding Scheme

The Developmental Pathway Funding Scheme (DPFS) is MRC’s core translational research scheme and it provides funding to support academically-led projects that aim to drive innovative treatments, interventions or products along the developmental pathway to improve prevention, diagnosis, prognosis or treatment of significant health needs.

Projects can include prototype discovery and design, pre-clinical and clinical refinement and early clinical trials (up to and including phase IIa). All health areas are in scope and all interventions are supported, including drugs, advanced therapeutics, regenerative medicine, vaccines, medical devices, digital health and AI, imaging, diagnostics, psychological and behavioural therapies.

DPFS also supports projects that focus on developing research tools or platform technologies that increase the efficiency of developing interventions.

Efficacy and Mechanism Evaluation

The Efficacy and Mechanism Evaluation programme provides funding to support late stage clinical evaluation of the efficacy and mechanism for therapeutics, devices and diagnostics where proof-of-concept in humans has already been achieved. This is funded by MRC and the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR), and administered by the NIHR Evaluation, Trials and Studies Coordinating Centre (NETSCC), on behalf of NIHR.

Later studies designed to produce research information about the effectiveness, costs, and broader impact of health technologies for those who use, manage and provide care in the NHS are supported by the Health Technology Assessment (HTA) programme, funded by NIHR and managed by NETCC.

Better Methods, Better Research

The Better methods better research programme supports methodology research to underpin biomedical sciences, experimental medicine, clinical trials, population health sciences, health services research and health policy.

Current strategic investments

UK Regenerative Medicine Platform

The UK Regenerative Medicine Platform (UKRMP) is a £42 million national initiative addressing the key translational challenges in regenerative medicine.

Established in 2013 by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and MRC, the UKRMP is a unique strategic programme that brings together the leading players in regenerative medicine across 17 different universities.

This coalescence of expertise, innovation, and technological capability, connected to commercial and clinical end-users, provides the critical mass that is essential for the development of novel advanced therapies seeking to repair or replace damaged or diseased human cells or tissues to restore normal function. A further objective of the programme has been to provide tools, resources and guidance around emerging issues for the wider research community.

The second phase of UKRMP began in 2018 and the platform has evolved to comprise three interdisciplinary research hubs. With a renewed focus and funding commitment, they continue to facilitate leading-edge research and ensure it translates into clinically and commercially viable applications. The hubs also generate new tools, protocols, and resources that can be used by other research groups. In addition to the hubs, cross-cutting programmes are being developed which link to or expand upon aspects of the science being progressed through the hubs. These include safety, immunology and manufacturing – themes with broad relevance and potential for impact both across the platform and in the national and international research community.

Nucleic Acid Therapy Accelerator

In 2019 MRC established the Nucleic Acid Therapy Accelerator (NATA) with a mission to accelerate the development of nucleic acid therapeutics and build partnerships with industry and academia from around the world.

NATA consists of two core components:

  • NATA Hub: provides dedicated research capability and infrastructure on the Harwell Science Campus to enable bespoke projects with academia and commercial organisations that will unblock barriers to NAT development
  • NATA Research Challenge funding: supports two international consortia of academic and industry experts – one consortium will address barriers to the manufacture of synthetic nucleic acid therapeutics and the other will address barriers to precision delivery.

Innovation hubs for gene therapies

In 2021, the Medical Research Council and LifeArc, with support from the BBSRC invested £18 million to create a national cutting edge network of innovation hubs for gene therapy.

The three hubs will advance the academic-led clinical development of new genetic treatments by providing dedicated good manufacturing practice facilities for clinical trial materials, essential translational support and regulatory advice. The hubs will operate as a coordinated network, sharing technical skills and resources to drive innovative gene therapy research forward.

Precision medicine consortia

Since 2010, MRC has supported precision, or stratified, medicine through a portfolio of consortia that are sustained through genuine collaboration between industry, academic, clinical and patient groups.

Each consortium is a scientific discovery engine with a finely characterised patient population at its heart contributing to a deeper understanding of disease process as well as trialling new and existing treatments in stratified groups for real patient benefit. The consortia are focused on the discovery and understanding of clinically important disease strata, with stratification based on response to treatment, diagnosis, prognosis or risk.

Clinical and translational industry partnerships

Partnership working lies at the heart of much of what MRC does and we recognise the important role collaborations, particularly partnerships with industry, can play in helping to meet our priorities of translating research into healthcare improvements and enhancing economic prosperity.

If your application involves the collaboration of one or more industrial partners, you should review the information published within the MRC industry collaboration framework (ICF) to decide if you should submit your application under the ICF.

These partnership initiatives include:

The MRC-AstraZeneca Centre for Lead Discovery

The MRC-AstraZeneca Centre for Lead Discovery (CLD) aims to support academic researchers in discovering potential starting points for small molecule medicinal drugs.

Academic researchers could benefit from unprecedented access to over two million molecules in AstraZeneca’s compound library, as well as its state-of-the-art, high-throughput screening facilities and industry expertise.

We will be supporting up to five projects in a funding opportunity to develop new approaches to small molecule medicine.

Experimental medicine initiative to explore new therapies

The Experimental Medicine Initiative to Explore New Therapies (EMINENT) programme is a cross-sector partnership between MRC, GSK and five universities – University College London, University of Glasgow, University of Cambridge, University of Newcastle and Imperial College London.

Through the unique EMINENT network, joint project teams of academic and GSK researchers can access the company’s portfolio of live medicines, in-house drug development and bioinformatics expertise, to characterise innovative pathogenic mechanisms, identify new drug targets and biomarkers, and to enable development of new treatment paradigms.

Past projects, outcomes and impact

In 2018 we commissioned a 10-year review of our translational research investment which was conducted by the MRC evaluation and analysis team, Ipsos MORI and Technopolis Group. The work was overseen by an independent expert advisory group chaired by Professor Simon Hollingsworth.

This evaluation included an examination of the outcomes of completed translational projects and showed strong evidence that MRC funding in this space was allowing projects to progress along the developmental pathway and to secure funding for the later stages of development outside MRCs remit, including later phase clinical studies, or industry sponsored research. Projects were found to have delivered a diverse range of outcomes ranging from new tools for research, to new devices and drug treatments now being tested in later phase studies.

The ongoing Impact Accelerator Accounts (IAA) and Developmental Pathway Funding Scheme (DPFS) initiatives, which accounted for almost half of MRC’s investment in translation over the decade, were found to be a major driver of commercialisation outcomes and a noteworthy UK success in expanding the pipeline of products in development. Spin-out companies established to take forward the development of research supported by IAA and DPFS projects established since 2008, secured over 40% of all equity investment in UK startups in the biotechnology and medical technology sector in 2018, and were valued in total at £2.7 billion.

The evaluation was an opportunity to seek views from a broad range of stakeholders with influence in UK and international translational research. Feedback was consistently positive about the major contribution that MRC funding had made to changing the culture in UK academia toward translational research and supporting its expansion.

Read the MRC translational research 2008 to 2018 evaluation report.

Who to contact

General enquiries

For questions about which scheme or initiative would be most suitable for your work, or for all other general enquiries.

Email: dpfsanddcs@mrc.ukri.org

Specific funding schemes

See the detailed information for each scheme for contact details.

Last updated: 15 August 2022

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