What are these new NHS-university partnerships?

Posted on October 17, 2011 by


On 6th October the government launched two new NIHR translational research partnerships that will focus on two disease areas: inflammatory respiratory disease and joint and related inflammatory disease. These are a continuation of the Therapeutic Capability Clusters trialed last year aimed at bringing together experts in the NHS and academia and outside funders to try and speed up the process of turning new scientific discoveries into treatments that will benefit patients.


Back in the Plan for Growth published alongside the 2011 Budget in March, the government announced that they would invest a minimum of £775 million over the next five years in building “translational research partnerships” – basically projects to support ‘early stage’ research focused on developing innovative medicines and treatments for patients.

7) The Government will form new Translational Research Partnerships from its £775 million investment in NIHR Biomedical Research Centres and Units. 

2.202 The NIHR has launched a new open competition for Biomedical Research Centres and Biomedical Research Units, which will be awarded after international peer review in summer 2011.  NIHR will invest a minimum of £775 million over five years in this infrastructure, which will form the basis of new translational research partnerships.

They have actually committed to spending more since then; making £800 million worth of investments in NIHR Biomedical Research Centres and Units. This is now the next step in their commitment, establishing new Translational Research Partnerships involving these centres and units.

What are these new partnerships?

Back in 2010, the Office for Life Sciences piloted two Therapeutic Capability Clusters. These were designed to bring together NHS and academic research centres of excellence to focus on high priority diseases whilst at the same time providing a single entity to make collaboration with the life sciences industry easier. These were to focus on two areas of disease:

  • Inflammatory respiratory diseases (e.g. Asthma and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease).
  • Joint & related inflammatory diseases (e.g. Rheumatoid Arthritis and Osteoarthritis)

Although it sounds similar, this is different to the MRC/ABPI Inflammation and Immunology Initiative launched around the same time.

These new NIHR translational research partnerships are building on these pilot Capability Clusters. Both partnerships contain a number of different universities and NHS trusts – a full list can be found at the bottom of this page. I’ve not been able to find a list of who was involved in the pilots so I’m not sure if the cluster members are the same as in the new partnerships. The two disease areas of focus remain the same however.

The government has invested £1.3 million to help establish the two partnerships. It’s not clear which pot of money this has come from or exactly how it will be spent.

The partnerships will be based within NIHR Biomedical Research Centres and Units, which were launched in August. Charities as well as companies can get involved with the partnerships and Arthritis Research UK is working closely with the two new partnerships.

The NIHR Office for Clinical Research Infrastructure (NOCRI) is the point of contact for industry and charities to get involved. They have also simplified the system to make it easier for industry to get involved with the partnerships; just one legal model agreement (launched back in February) is now required rather than having to negotiate with each NHS trust and university.

The plan is that by making it easier for the NHS, universities and funding partners (industry and research charities) to work together medicines and treatments will arrive onto the market sooner and the economy will benefit from expansion of British biotech companies.

What next?

The government is committed to lots of work to support health research in the plan for growth – a lot of this, including changes to the regulation of health research are still ongoing (see Becky’s previous blog on the plan for growth for a rundown of all the things the government is planning to do).

A further plan for growth is expected this autumn. The NHS is currently reviewing innovation in the NHS, recognising that the NHS is a world leader at invention but that the spread of these inventions within the NHS is often too slow, with us sometimes failing to take them up into widespread use at all. Becky has recently blogged about a debate in the commons on innovation in the NHS.

Posted in: Policy