Peninsula’s first Biomedical Research Centre celebrates potential for the region at official launch

  • October 12th 2023

A year ago, the National Institute of Health and Social Care Research (NIHR) announced £15 million in funding for our new NIHR Exeter Biomedical Research Centre. On Monday, researchers, clinicians and members of the public were among those to come together at our launch event, where we celebrated the benefits this major investment has brought so far. Already, it is helping us translate medical discoveries swiftly into benefits for patients, driving improvements in health for our local populations, as well as nationally and internationally.

In her opening address at Monday’s launch, Exeter BRC Director Professor Sallie Lamb said: “I’ve seen what a transformational difference this type of infrastructure funding makes. It helps us to fund technical activity, build capacity through research fellowships and form stronger bonds with the NHS. As a result, we’ll be able to strengthen our work with the commercial sector, contributing to the wealth of the nation while helping businesses in the South West and beyond.”

As well as keynote speeches from Professor Lisa Roberts, President and Vice-Chancellor at the University of Exeter and Paul Roberts, Interim Chief Executive Officer Royal Devon University Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust, our theme leads presented case studies highlighting the impact of our work. Our world-class research is across five core themes that are vital for our local communities as well as globally.

The event featured engaging workshops focused on data sharing, involving patients and the public in research, and innovation and entrepreneurship and a lively round table discussion in which we heard from representatives across our partnership as well as Head of NIHR infrastructure, Dr Natalie Owen.

Making a difference to patients

Our research specialism is ‘translational medicine’ meaning we make scientific discoveries that have the potential to make a real difference to patients, ensuring that they find their way, or translate, to the patient bedside or clinic. Sallie said: “The treatments that we’ve identified in Exeter are making a real benefit to patients, but it’s just the beginning. We’re going to do this as a team with patients, across the University and the NHS, using our strengths to deliver health benefits, jobs and opportunities and deliver critical investment in our region.
The South West peninsula has some of the most significant health challenges in the country owing to rural and coastal deprivation and our ageing population. We must really understand and work towards improving health outcomes and translating our scientific knowledge to make sure our innovations have positive impact here, and further afield.”

Ingredients for success

The NIHR is the research arm of the NHS and there are 20 NIHR Biomedical Research Centres across the country. Ours is the first new centre to be granted funding in 20 years. So, what made our application last year successful? Sallie said: “All of the elements are here in the South West; excellent science, excellent support infrastructure and hospitals, and absolutely the best approach to patient and public involvement. But it’s the people who’ve made this happen, and over quite a long time period, starting with the foresight of a small group of individuals who brought a medical school to the University of Exeter.”

In her keynote address, President and Vice-Chancellor at the University of Exeter Professor Lisa Roberts said: “Together we have the opportunity to make a monumental difference, forging a strong partnership across the South West Peninsula to advance biomedical research and innovation. Building capacity in research is a vital strand of our university’s 2030 strategy and I know that the BRC’s training programme is a fundamental part of the centre. Training the research leaders of the future will have a lasting and permanent impact on research and innovation within the region, and on the health of future generations.”

Access to latest research

Paul Roberts Interim Chief Executive Officer at Royal Devon University Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust, said: “For us as an NHS organisation, the clear benefit of NHS academic partnerships with universities is on outcomes for patient care. It’s also about access for colleagues and people working in healthcare to the latest thinking, research and evidence. The benefits this brings to people using the NHS and for us as an organisation is huge, helping us to recruit and retain high-calibre people, which really makes a difference. Academic partnerships are also about teaching, education, and learning in research-rich environments. Our organisations have so many overlapping objectives, meaning our partnership can help us jointly to deliver many more benefits to patients and colleagues.”

Coming back bigger, better, stronger

Exeter BRC director Professor Sallie Lamb is already looking ahead to what happens after the initial five years of funding. She said: “This is just the beginning. We need to work hard together and go back, bigger, better, stronger. Together we can make a real difference to the peninsula, which each and every one of us hold dear; we’re going to make this BRC a really big success.”

Built on a partnership between the University of Exeter and the Royal Devon University Healthcare NHS foundation Trust, South West NHS partners and St George’s University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, patients, carers and families, our centre brings together world-class medical research leaders from across the region.

Our core research themes are:

During our first year we have invested in:

  • Ten senior Investigator Fellows to work between the NHS and university
  • Three NIHR consultant awards
  • Our first six PhD students
  • Ten infrastructure posts in advanced computing, laboratory science data science, clinical trials, project management and pharmacy
  • Spreading and deepening our patient and public involvement
  • More than 30 research projects.