UK government chooses Leeds to co-ordinate health research

The University of Leeds has been chosen by the UK government to take a leading role in the co-ordination of health research across England.

After a competitive tender, the University was selected by the Department of Health and Social Care to lead the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) Research Delivery Network Coordinating Centre, a five-year contract beginning on 1 April 2024. 

The new coordinating centre will be based in Leeds and will employ more than 270 people. It will work across England’s health and care system, with staff in all settings, to support the effective and efficient initiation and delivery of research.

Working with other parts of the NIHR it will be responsible for the knowledge and skill development of the whole health research and development workforce, which will help to address health and economic inequalities across the Leeds city region and nationally.

We will harness the talent of our NHS staff and generosity of the population to progress new ways of working to support the delivery of research to achieve our ambitions to improve the health and wealth all our communities."

Professor Mark Kearney, Executive Dean of the Faculty of Medicine and Health

The Centre will be joined by 12 new Regional Research Delivery Networks, hosted by NHS organisations the length and breadth of the country. These contracts will commence on 1 October 2024.

Together, they will form the NIHR Research Delivery Network, which will operate as one organisation across England, balancing regional context, expertise and leadership with national coordination and strategy involving government policymakers.

Professor Mark Kearney, Executive Dean of the Faculty of Medicine and Health, University of Leeds, said: "We are delighted to host the coordinating centre for the new NIHR Research Delivery Network. UK health and care research is already recognised as world-leading. The University of Leeds, as part of the Research Delivery Network, is poised and eager to work with the health and care system to make a step change in how we deliver this research. 

"We will harness the talent of our NHS staff and generosity of the population to progress new ways of working to support the delivery of research to achieve our ambitions to improve the health and wealth of all our communities."

While the Research Delivery Network is new and responds to the needs of the health and care research system of the present day, it will build on the notable successes of the NIHR Clinical Research Network Coordinating Centre, which the University has led along with Guy’s and St Thomas’s NHS Foundation Trust since 2014

The Clinical Research Network supported a transformation in the strength of England’s research delivery system, promoted the successful delivery of studies and underpinned the dramatic expansion of health research participation.

Professor Nick Plant, Deputy Vice-Chancellor of Research and Innovation at Leeds, said: “Here at the University of Leeds we pride ourselves on our dynamic research portfolio that works to improve health and well-being by undertaking excellent biomedical, translational, and applied health and care research and innovation.

“Our successful tender for this highly competitive government contract is further recognition of our outstanding track record in health and care research, and allows us to build on the work of our brilliant colleagues across the Clinical Research Network over the last nine years."

Key successes delivered by the Clinical Research Network Coordinating Centre under the leadership of the University of Leeds include:

Supporting the UK Chief Medical Officer to prioritise 100 urgent public health studies during the COVID-19 pandemic, enabling recruitment of more than 1m participants across 8,773 sites including the RECOVERY study, delivering first-in-world, evidence-based treatment.

  • Recruiting more than 1.2 million participants to Clinical Research Network portfolio research studies in 2021/22, up from 618,453 in 2015/16.
  • Management of a major NIHR system change – the successful merger of eight national networks into one, and 102 regional networks into 15.
  • Development of a UK-wide vaccine network, providing a platform for widespread deployment of vaccines as part of NHS England’s vaccine programme.

Professor Lucy Chappell, Chief Executive of the NIHR said: “The new NIHR Research Delivery Network is designed to provide an enhanced, consistent service for all those involved in research delivery. It includes part of a system-wide drive to increase commercial clinical trials, ensuring we work more effectively than ever with the life sciences industry to deliver the best, most cutting-edge health and care research for the British public, alongside research funded by the government and charities.

“Access to research opportunities in under-served regions is crucial and the new NIHR Research Delivery Network will be pivotal in supporting new treatment and models of care to communities with major health and care needs. It will build capacity to extend research delivery in primary, community and social care settings to make it easier for patients to get access to cutting-edge treatment, through research.

“The plans and ambitions we have for the Research Delivery Network have evolved from the excellent work of the Clinical Research Network over the last nine years. Its many dedicated staff have worked incredibly hard to support England to deliver some of the best health and care research during this time. Without their passion and determination, so much of the world-leading research produced in this country during the COVID-19 pandemic would not have been possible.”

The evolution of the Clinical Research Network into the Research Delivery Network will help meet the current and future needs of the country for increased capacity and capability within the research system for the health and wealth of the nation.

The Research Delivery Network will deliver an enhanced study support service which will enable improved access to research infrastructure for the life sciences industry and researchers. The expertise and site-level intelligence of staff from Research Delivery Networks will be drawn together with the national oversight and leadership of the Research Delivery Network Coordinating Centre to provide a more effective end-to-end service for customers.

The new Research Delivery Network, working with the wider system, will enhance equality of opportunity for people to get involved in research, no matter who they are or which part of the country they reside.

It will enable research activity to follow patient and service user needs, ensuring research is conducted in communities living with the greatest disease burden, in collaboration with patients, carers and the public, investigators and study sites.

Further information

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Top image: Professor Mark Kearney, Executive Dean of the Faculty of Medicine and Health