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It is hoped the new funding will lead to scientific discoveries. 

Exeter wins £15 million NIHR funding for Westcountry’s first Biomedical Research Centre

More than £15 million in government funding will support a university-NHS partnership in setting up the Westcountry’s first Biomedical Research Centre, to translate scientific discoveries into tangible benefits for patients.

The award, from the National Institute for Health and Care Research, will help the partners develop new treatments. It will support them to run more clinical trials to get effective treatments into clinical practice where they can benefit people, improve diagnoses and develop better precision approaches to target the right therapies to the right people using cutting edge technologies.

The new NIHR Exeter Biomedical Research Centre partnership is led by the University of Exeter and the Royal Devon University Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust. The partnership encompasses the Royal Cornwall Hospitals NHS Trust, Devon Partnership NHS Trust, Cornwall Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, and Somerset NHS Foundation Trust, working with St George's University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust.

Sallie Lamb, Pro-Vice Chancellor of the University of Exeter’s Faculty of Health and Life Sciences, will direct the new centre. She said: “I’m thrilled that this funding will allow our invaluable network of NHS partners across Devon, Cornwall and Somerset to turn the latest research into tangible benefits for patients. This NIHR Exeter Biomedical Research Centre is the first in the peninsula. The region is home to a greater proportion of older adults than anywhere else in the UK, providing a snapshot of the major challenges the NHS will face in the future. It offers a ready-made setting for world-class research to improve treatment and care in areas that need it most.”

Suzanne Tracey, Chief Executive Officer at the Royal Devon University Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust said: “This exciting partnership between the Royal Devon, the University of Exeter and other NHS organisations across the South West will enable us to translate research into clinical care, technologies and medicines for people locally and across the world. 

Working in collaboration with our patients and clinical teams, this funding will enable our medical research leaders to rapidly bring programmes of scientific discovery to life, better benefitting our local communities through delivering the innovations that will make a real difference to our patients.”

Working across five core themes that represent major health challenges, the NIHR Exeter Biomedical Research Centre will have patient benefit at its heart. The partnership also brings together world-class medical research leaders from across the region, including clinical and laboratory scientists, doctors, nurses, and data experts. Their technical knowledge will be partnered with expertise from patients, carers, and families to identify and drive forward important new research.

The team will all aim to improve diagnosis, treatment and care, in the South West and across the world. The innovations will transform lives, improve the NHS and ensure patients receive the treatment and care that is best for them.

The five themes are:

  1. Neurodegeneration: finding and testing new, better drugs that prevent and treat major brain conditions in older adults such as dementia and Parkinson’s disease.
  2. Rehabilitation: Using exciting new approaches to help older people to recover from illness or manage their long-term conditions like dementia and arthritis.
  3. Diabetes: Improving diagnosis and treatment, and exploring how to help those most at risk.
  4. Genetics: Unlocking the power of genetics, to improve diagnosis of rare illnesses in children and rare cancers, and to create tailored treatments for common diseases.
  5. Clinical Mycology: Seeking better treatments to prevent and manage potentially deadly fungal infections.

The BRC will achieve these ambitious aims by building on the already strong partnerships and relationships in the region, between the University of Exeter, the NHS and its existing networks, the commercial sector, and other scientists in the field.

Bianca Mills, Head of Research and Development at the Royal Cornwall Hospital Trust, said: “We’re so pleased to be a part of the NIHR Exeter Biomedical Research Centre. This is an exciting new opportunity for local researchers which will ensure lab-based discoveries which can be translated into treatment, interventions and more.”

Professor Lisa Roberts, Vice Chancellor and Chief Executive of the University of Exeter, said: “We’re so proud to be part of the NIHR Exeter Biomedical Research Centre. I have no doubt that it will drive forward innovative and impactful research that will make a real difference to people’s lives and the NHS.”

The NIHR Exeter Biomedical Research Centre is one of 20 that NIHR is funding across the UK, with a total £790 million investment. Of those, 12 of which have received additional investment in this new funding round. Over the past nine years, the BRCs have supported almost 60,000 studies and published 55,000 research papers, as well as supported the career development of more than 14,000 junior doctors and research scientists.

Professor Lucy Chappell, Chief Executive of the NIHR, said: “Research by NIHR Biomedical Research Centres has led to a number of ground-breaking new treatments, such as new gene therapies for haemophilia and motor neurone disease, the world-first treatment for Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease, a nose-drop vaccine for whooping cough, and the first UK-wide study into the long-term impact of COVID-19.

“This latest round of funding recognises the strength of expertise underpinning health and care research across the country and gives our nation’s best researchers more opportunities to develop innovative new treatments for patients.”

Date: 14 October 2022

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