Imperial has been awarded £11.3 million by the National Institute of Health Research (NIHR) to support the delivery of clinical research.

The funding is for the NIHR Clinical Research Facility (CRF), a partnership between Imperial College London and Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust.  The facility offers a dedicated and purpose-built space in Hammersmith Hospital where researchers can deliver early phase clinical trials.  The focus is on safety and efficacy trials with patient volunteers.

Impact of the CRF

The CRF first opened in 2012 and has provided faster access for patients to new treatments and translated local and externally developed scientific advances to patient benefit.  It has helped with our understanding of disease through human respiratory challenge studies for flu and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) as well supporting new biological treatments such as gene therapy trials for haemophilia.

Devices are also included in its portfolio of treatments, such as the use of micro-needle sensors for individualised drug dosing for diabetes and antimicrobial therapy.

The CRF played a key role in Imperial’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.  In response to the needs of partners at the College and the Trust, staff at the CRF pivoted to focus on delivering trials for candidate COVID-19 vaccines. In April 2020, the CRF became one of the first recruiting centres that the Oxford Vaccine Group approached to help deliver their study, COV001. At its peak, the CRF was running three vaccine trials simultaneously at Hammersmith Hospital – Oxford’s COV001 and COV002, and Imperial’s COVAC1 – as well as the Janssen Ensemble-2 trial at Charing Cross Hospital.

Latest investment

Commenting on the award, Professor Martin Wilkins, Vice Dean (Research) for the Faculty of Medicine at Imperial College London and Director of the NIHR CRF, said:

“I am pleased that the work of our CRF has been recognised by the NIHR with this latest investment in our infrastructure.  The COVID-19 pandemic showcased the vital contribution that we can make to new therapeutic development. With vaccine development, our nursing staff and trial support team rose to the challenge, working long shifts, juggling personal and work commitments. I want to thank them for their incredible work during a very challenging time.

“This award builds on our success and looks forward to an ambitious plan to expand our research base and work in partnership with patients and the public to be inclusive and ensure true representation in clinical research. We welcome our research community to make the most of this opportunity.”

Professor Jonathan Weber, Dean of the Faculty of Medicine at Imperial College London, said:

“I am delighted with the funding award from the NIHR for our clinical research work.

“This award is in recognition of the global outcomes of our research work and our ability to respond to current and emerging healthcare needs.

“Staff at the CRF play a key role in its success and I want to thank them for their efforts in delivering high quality research work, especially during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic where demand for clinical trials grew.

“This award will allow us to continue our efforts to deliver clinical research work that can make a difference to the health outcomes of our patients and populations, and to be at the forefront of research and innovation.”

Life sciences industry

Imperial is one of 28 CRFs that have been awarded funding for the next five years and the NIHR has increased its funding by £49 million, as a signal of its aim to increase its work with the life sciences industry.

Professor Lucy Chappell, Chief Executive of the NIHR and Chief Scientific Adviser to the Department of Health and Social Care, said: “NIHR’s CRFs scheme has been a key force in translational research across England, helping to position the nation as internationally competitive in early stage clinical research.

“This new funding, a 43 per cent increase, will allow the CRFs to continue to drive forward innovation in experimental medicine and support translation of exciting discoveries into new treatments for patients.”