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The Big Data Institute (BDI) will lead a new programme of work on Translational Data Science thanks to new funding awarded to Oxford’s two National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) Biomedical Research Centres (BRCs). Researchers from the BDI will also lead a new Ethics Hub, and be involved in the Cancer, Genomic Medicine, Imaging, Modernising Medical Microbiology and Big Infection Diagnostics, and Psychological Treatments themes.  

The NIHR Oxford BRC, a partnership between the University of Oxford and Oxford University Hospitals (OUH) NHS Foundation Trust, will receive £86.6m over the next five years to fund 15 research themes.

The NIHR Oxford Health BRC, a partnership between the University and Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust (OHFT), will receive £35.4m to support research across 11 themes.

The BRCs bring together academics and clinicians to translate scientific breakthroughs into potential new treatments, diagnostics and medical technologies that benefit NHS patients.

Professor Cecilia Lindgren, Director of the BDI and lead for the Translational Data Science theme, said ‘Our focus is on linking research excellence with clinical expertise in the NHS in a way that is scientifically rigorous and appropriate to patients. This new BRC funding will enable us to build on the multidisciplinary expertise in the Big Data Institute – a cross-department initiative which focusses on excellence in data science and analysis of large-scale biomedical data.

‘Our vision is one of a sustainable healthcare system in which data are used to their full potential. The new Translational Data Science theme will make this vision a reality, enabling us to work with our diverse partners to apply statistical, machine learning, and data engineering techniques, to care records and research datasets.’

The Oxford BRC was one of the five original BRCs created in 2007 and has just celebrated its 15th anniversary. The Oxford Health BRC was created in 2017 as a centre specialising in mental health and dementia.

Professor Helen McShane, Director of the NIHR Oxford BRC, said ‘This funding is a recognition of the high calibre work done by our researchers in recent years, exemplified by establishing emergency stroke clinics, showing some shoulder surgery is not needed, and optimising the use of new treatments for asthma and other airway diseases, as well as all the work during the COVID-19 pandemic, where the development of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine and the RECOVERY treatment trial for people with severe COVID-19, among other important trials, has saved millions of lives.

‘As well as innovating to improve the treatment and care of NHS patients, our world-class scientists attract significant investment from commercial and charitable funders and our research shows that the BRCs play an important role in boosting the local economy, as well as the UK life science industry.’

Professor John Geddes, Director of the NIHR Oxford Health BRC, said ‘The successful BRC application was a result of a huge amount of work involving patients and public, researchers and clinicians across Oxford and our partners across the country. It builds on the success of the current centre which has, over the past five years, delivered new psychological and digital treatments, advances in drug discovery and new ways of integrating research and clinical care.

‘The new award now provides us with a wonderful opportunity to transform care for mental and brain health and wellbeing across the whole country and, actually, the world. We can now translate the best research from UK biomedical science, data science and engineering, social science and arts and the humanities for the benefit of clinical care and population health.

‘We are enormously grateful to the NIHR and the International Panel for generously supporting our ambitious plans and vision. We are now looking forward to co-designing with patients and public powerful new approaches that can be tested, refined and then implemented across the NHS and beyond.’

Gavin Screaton, Head of the University of Oxford’s Medical Sciences Division, said: ‘This is terrific news not only for our scientists in Oxford, but ultimately for patients across the UK and worldwide who will benefit from the discoveries and developments this funding enables.

‘From the lab to the bedside, we have shown time and time again that our strong collaboration with our local NHS Trusts through the two BRCs is immensely valuable, and we greatly look forward to our partnership continuing to grow.’

In total, the NIHR has awarded nearly £800 million to 20 Biomedical Research Centres across England, following an open and competitive process judged by international experts and members of the public. As well as supporting research over the next five years in areas such as cancer, mental health, dementia and infectious diseases, the new funding will provide opportunities for a diverse range of professionals to undertake research, expanding research expertise in allied health professionals – such as physiotherapists, radiologists and dietitians – as well as in doctors and nurses.

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.’