University of Warwick: The Midlands is delivering nearly £100m of COVID research to support the nation’s fight against COVID-19

A new report – Mobilising Research Excellence in the Midlands to Tackle COVID-19 – published today (Friday, January 15 2021) reveals that the Midlands has moved swiftly to apply its wealth of capability in its hospitals, businesses and universities, including the University of Warwick, to deliver £90m of research to support regional, national and global efforts to tackle the Coronavirus Pandemic.

The report highlights that:

Experts in the Midlands are leading 81 new COVID-19 research programmes.
The region is playing a crucial and integral role in the world-leading genome sequencing consortium which is identifying the strains of COVID-19 recently in the UK and internationally.
The Midlands has used its internationally leading research excellence and clinical trials infrastructure to recruit over 50,000 patients to COVID-19 clinical trials, driving the discovery of new treatments and scientific insights.
The region has successfully bid for £45m of funding enabling the delivery of £90m of cutting-edge COVID-19 related research.
The region was at the forefront of the early detection of the heightened risks of COVID-19 to the country’s Black and Ethnic Minority population and bringing this to clinical attention.
The volume of research projects and clinical trials that the Midlands is not just involved in, but in many cases leading, is exceptional. During the pandemic, the region’s outstanding clinical trials investigators and infrastructure have worked with national organisations to streamline processes and have delivered complex and adaptive clinical trial designs, exceptional recruitment levels and high-quality execution at speeds that were previously thought to be impossible. By combining this with the ability to leverage expertise, integrated with local infrastructure and community engagement, the region now hosts a world-class COVID-19 clinical trials environment, delivering nationally-leading patient recruitment that have recruited over 15% of all UK patients who are taking part in COVID-19 trials. Over 50,000 patients have been recruited by 542 sites in the region, participating in 46 COVID-19 clinical research trials.

The Midlands Life Science community, made up of over 1,200 companies, including the country’s highest number of medical technologies companies and supporting over 30,000 jobs, has played a key role in the national effort against COVID-19. The Midlands is ideally placed to tackle the coronavirus, with the largest number of Life Science companies outside London and the South East, a globally representative population engaged with research, and a fully-integrated clinical research infrastructure.

The region is also driving the sector internationally, not least because of the world-class Midlands universities, seven of which have Medical Schools. These are all working to promote strong collaboration between academia, industry and health. A prime example of this collaboration is the University of Oxford / AstraZeneca UK vaccine, which is being manufactured by Cobra Biologics on Keele University’s Science and Innovation Park.

Midlands Innovation Health (MIH) aims to deliver improved health and regional growth by coordinating and combining the collective excellence available in the seven research intensive Medical and Healthcare Universities in the Midlands (Aston, Keele and Loughborough Universities and the Universities of Leicester, Nottingham and Warwick).

Professor Sudhesh Kumar OBE, Convener of Midlands Innovation Health and Dean of Medicine at the University of Warwick, said: “Whether it is to do with developing novel tests or designing and executing clinical trials at speed, individually and collectively, MIH has shown agility and responsiveness to this major public health emergency, helped by significant reduction of bureaucracy. We can see from the snapshot of exemplar projects in this report, creative new approaches to solving this societal challenge using any method possible drawing from expertise across a wide range of disciplines. What is also positive is the way Universities, NHS and industry are collaborating not only across Midlands, but also across the UK and Internationally.”

The Midlands has a proven reputation for rapid design and delivery of world-class adaptive clinical trials at a national and international scale through the region’s impressive clinical trials cluster. The Midlands delivers innovation for patients and drives accelerated translational excellence in specialist areas including trial design, usability, testing and innovative engagement of patients and industry. We have a wide range of clinical specialisms, including respiratory disease, BAME health, and diabetes, and have led the global effort in the methodologies used to evaluate and accredit diagnostic tests for COVID-19.

A core strength of the Midlands’ academic excellence and knowledge economy is data-driven healthcare. The region hosts a rapidly-growing cluster of digital health companies (including more digital start-ups than any UK area outside of London), as well as world-leading academic and clinical expertise (including the Centre for BME Health and the Health Data Research UK Midlands Substantive Site).

The Midlands is ideally placed to face the future challenges of COVID-19, including long COVID, rehabilitation and returning to work post COVID-19. Utilising the new National Rehabilitation Centre which is to be built in Leicestershire, NIHR Patient Recruitment Centre: Leicester* and Your COVID Recovery programme**, as well as our existing expertise and facilities, the Midlands will continue to drive forward research excellence to fight COVID-19 and save lives.

Sir John Peace, Chairman of the Midlands Engine, which has recently launched Midlands Engine Health – a vehicle to amplify on the national stage the world-leading health research in the Midlands region- said: “The Midlands is delivering world-leading, life changing clinical research in response to COVID-19. Working together across the region, the NHS, universities and industry are meeting the challenge, driving lifesaving treatments for COVID-19 and improving outcomes.”

Midlands Health Alliance (MHA) is an alliance between the outstanding Midlands NIHR infrastructure (including Biomedical Research Centres, Clinical Research Facilities, Clinical Research Networks, Applied Research Collaboration plus the Academic Health Science Networks).

Professor Ian Hall, Director of the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Nottingham Biomedical Research Centre and Co-Chair of the Midlands Health Alliance, said: “Nationally, the major part played by Midlands’ centres, particularly in recruitment to clinical trials, has been important. Without recruitment to these trials we would not have identified the drugs which we now know can be used in the treatment of hospitalised patients with COVID-19.

“The Midlands is also playing a significant role in the vaccine studies. There have also been major contributions from individuals based in the Midlands to national planning for COVID-19, including important contributions to the Department of Health and Social Care, UK COVID-19 Therapeutics Advisory Panel, NIHR and SAGE. It is really encouraging to see the close working across the region and beyond which has happened, and I am delighted that MHA has been able to play a role in supporting this.”

Dr Darren Clark, Chief Executive Medilink Midlands (representing the Midlands Life Sciences industry association), said: “The Midlands has a unique set of capabilities and offers for Life Science companies. Our tenacity and resilience allows us to weather whatever storms life throws at us. With COVID, as with any problem we are faced with, the Midlands Life Science industry delivered a solution to what seemed at times, an insurmountable obstacle. It’s thanks to our companies that we were able to help those most in need at this time and make a significant contribution to addressing this world-wide pandemic.”

The report is co-produced by the Midlands Health Alliance, Midlands Innovation Health, and Medilink Midlands to highlight the region’s research excellence to support national COVID-19 pandemic efforts.

The report will be officially launched and discussed by an invited audience of regional MPs and leading figures from the Midlands’ healthcare sector, industry, and academic experts later today (Friday January 15 2021).

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