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19.12.18

Leading the way: The Translational Research Collaboration for Mental Health

Source: NHE Nov/Dec 2018

Professor John Geddes, director of the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Oxford Health Biomedical Research Centre, introduces the new Translational Research Collaboration for Mental Health (TRC-MH): a group of investigators, based in leading universities and hospitals across the country, working with industry and charity partners to find new treatments and therapeutics.

Mental health and dementia are increasingly recognised as major contributions to the global burden of disease, with more than 11% of the NHS budget spent on treating mental illness and much higher costs to the nation from unemployment and absenteeism. It is now emerging as a global priority for research, reflecting both the recognition of the need and the increasing optimism about the potential for advances in prevention, treatment, and care.

New avenues for therapeutic innovation are emerging based on the combination of advances in discovery science and better technology. Genetic studies are now beginning to provide new drug targets, and advances from systems, biology (e.g. immunology), and neuroscience are generating new leads. Digital methods are providing routes to make psychological therapies both more widely available and more precise.

Taking full advantage of the increased potential – and funding – for generating benefits for patients needs a transformation of the NHS’s infrastructure for supporting clinical research. The NIHR provides the infrastructure to translate scientific discovery into practical health benefits and supports both NIHR- and externally-funded research.

Since 2016, the NIHR Biomedical Research Centre – partnerships between England’s leading research universities and NHS organisations – has greatly increased its support of mental health and dementia research. There are now two Biomedical Research Centres (BRCs) focused on mental health and dementia: one at the South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust and King’s College London, and another at the Oxford Health NHS FT and the University of Oxford. Both include full involvement of patients and the public in strategic and operational matters.

Four further BRCs (Bristol, Cambridge, Nottingham and UCL) include mental health themes. Mental health is now the second highest (after cancer) funded illness area across the BRCs. This increased investment provides an unprecedented opportunity to deliver innovative therapies for patients across the NHS.

The NIHR also funds dedicated clinical research facilities in several centres linked to the BRCs, which provide the specialist staffing, environment and equipment required for externally-funded, high-intensity, early-phase clinical studies, and research delivery is facilitated by the NIHR Clinical Research Networks.

To provide a truly national approach to mental health research, with the aim of offering research participation to all patients, regardless of where they live, we are now developing an integrated and coordinated national framework for testing novel therapies. As well as providing opportunities to participate in research, this will also speed up recruitment and improve implementation.

The NIHR TRC-MH was launched in September, and includes the BRCs (London, Oxford, Cambridge, Bristol, Nottingham, University College London) plus the CRF hosting sites in Manchester, Newcastle and Exeter, and the comparable developments in Cardiff and Edinburgh. 

The TRC-MH provides a single point of contact for partners such as industry and medical research charities to work with the 11 participating centres of excellence, speeding up the negotiation of agreements and contracts. It will coordinate all steps from first contact through to delivery of the research project. The initial focus of the TRC-MH will be on new therapies for  treatment-resistant depression and for people ‘at risk’ of developing mental illness to help develop preventive strategies. The TRC-MH will also develop well-defined cohorts of patients who have consented to be re-contacted to participate in research studies. 

The rapid development of the TRC-MH following the increased BRC funding in the 2016 competition reflects the new energy and national collaboration across the leading UK centres of research and service excellence. The aim is to make the UK the world’s leading location for mental health research, working with global partners to transform our ability to prevent and treat mental illness.

 

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