A new report – Mobilising Research Excellence in the Midlands to Tackle COVID-19 – reveals that the Midlands has moved swiftly to apply its wealth of capability in its hospitals, universities and businesses 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
- BHP 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 – including CATALYST, Recovery-RS, SG 016 ‘Synairgen’, ISARIC and UKOSS here at BHP
- The region has successfully bid for £45m of funding enabling the delivery of £90m of cutting-edge COVID-19 related research
- Birmingham was at the forefront of the early detection of the heightened risks of COVID-19 to the country’s Black and Ethnic Minority populations and deprived communities, 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 typified by Birmingham Health Partners.
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 Birmingham in particular has led the global effort in the development of diagnostic tests for COVID-19:
- BHP upscaling testing for NHS staff
- COVID-19 ‘Lighthouse Lab’ testing led by Birmingham Professor
- Birmingham designed test confirms COVID-19 as trigger for rare Kawasaki-like syndrome in children
- COVID-19 antibody tests don’t work if used at the wrong time
- Breakthrough antibodies test to detect ‘hidden’ COVID-19 cases launches in Birmingham
- Government COVID-19 testing lab to open at the University of Birmingham
- New COVID-19 test gives result in minutes
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 PIONEER and INSIGHT hubs in Birmingham).
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 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 including BHP founder-member the University of Birmingham. 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.”
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.”