University of Newcastle upon Tyne
Academic medicine in Newcastle continues to go from strength to strength, based, to a large extent, on the strong partnership that exists between the Faculty of Medical Sciences at Newcastle University and the Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust.
This partnership covers all three of the “mission” aims of the University:
- to be a centre of world class research
- to deliver high quality teaching and
- to play a role in the economic development of the North East of England
These webpages highlight the achievements of the partnership over the past year and discuss the opportunities and challenges that lie ahead.
Research & Development
Research in the Faculty of Medical Sciences is flourishing. Our grant income has doubled over the last five years and continues to grow at around 15% per annum, with over £46 million awarded in 2007/8. In the 2007 Universities Research Assessment Exercise (RAE), the Faculty entered 318 academics, a 52% increase on our 2001 entry. Our research council income has gone up over 75% in the past three years to over £16 million and our research council award rate is now 5th highest amongst medical faculties in the UK.
We have established three new research institutes over the past year - Institute of Cellular Medicine (ICM), North East Stem Cell Institute (NESCI) and the Institute of Health & Society (IHS). In addition we have appointed new clinical Chairs in Rheumatology; Cardiovascular Ageing; and Nephrology. We have recently begun construction of the new “Medical Sciences Building” on the main Medical School campus, which will house a new Centre for Bacterial Cell Biology and the Institute for Health and Society at a cost of £30 million. Against this background of Faculty research success, it would not be an exaggeration to say that medical research in the UK is currently at a crossroads.
Over £650 million per annum has been committed by the Department of Health (DoH) to research & development (R&D) – creating the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) funding stream - and a large proportion of the £600 million Medical Research Council (MRC) budget has also been earmarked for clinical research. These initiatives reflect a clear desire by government to “translate” advances in basic science into benefit for patients. The vast majority of this funding has, and will continue to be, awarded to university employed clinical academics working in teaching hospitals with R&D firmly at the centre of their core mission aims. Thus far, the Faculty /Trust partnership has achieved considerable success in this new funding regime; however, continued success in this highly competitive environment will be increasingly dependent on an even closer working relationship between the Faculty and its partner NHS Trusts. Close Faculty/Foundation Trust working is facilitated by a Joint Research Executive, which provides strategic as well as a operational oversight of clinical research.
The Joint Research Office, jointly funded by the Faculty and the Trust being led by the Trust R&D Director (Professor Gary Ford) NIHR research in the Faculty. The Faculty is currently undergoing a restructuring to create a new “Clinical Deanery” headed by the Dean of Clinical Research, which will have as a main focus, encouraging and facilitating clinical research in the Faculty. The Faculty and Trust jointly manage a complete range of clinical research “platforms”, including dedicated clinical research units and a state-of-the-art Imaging Centre, housing both MRI & PET scanners. The Faculty/Trust partnership has established a very strong platform on which to build our clinical research portfolio and enable us to fully exploit the opportunities arising as a consequence of increased funding streams available.
Successes 2007 - 2008
The Faculty of Medical Sciences with our NHS partners, has achieved considerable success in the new NIHR NHS R&D funding programme. October 2007 saw the initiation of the NIHR Biomedical Research Centre (BRC) in Ageing and Age-Related Chronic Disease. This is one of only two BRCs outside London, Oxford & Cambridge and comprises seven clinical research themes – Dementia and Neurodegenerative disease; Stroke and Cardiovascular medicine; Diabetes; Liver disease; Musculoskeletal disease; Mitochondrial disease and Age-related Eye disease. Six of these themes are led by Trust-based clinical academics and all focus on translating advances in basic science into patient benefit. Other NIHR funding includes a £1.5 million programme grant for Stroke Research led by Professor Gary Ford, who also directs the UK Stroke Clinical Research Network (CRN) Co-ordinating Centre – one of only five such centres in the UK – with the Faculty also hosting the Dementia and Neurodegenerative diseases CRN Coordinating Centre.
Professor Tim Goodship, Consultant Nephrologist, is Director of the Northumberland Tyne and Wear Comprehensive Local Research Network (CLRN) which distributes funds aimed at supporting the recruitment of patients into clinical trials. Members of the Faculty’s Institute for Health & Society have this year been awarded over £10 million from the NIHR to establish the Regional Research Design Support Unit - aimed at helping clinicians convert good research ideas into “fundable” grant projects - and a Centre of Excellence in Public Health (in collaboration with the other North East Universities). Investigators in the Faculty have also been awarded significant sums from the new MRC “pot” for clinical research, including funding for studies of novel therapies in Hepatitis C; investigating biomarkers of ageing and, most notably, the recent award of an MRC Centre for Brain Ageing and Vitality to Professor Turnbull and colleagues in the Institute of Ageing & Health (value £5 million).
Clinical academics within the Faculty were awarded further NSCAG funding (distinct supraregional NHS funding) with Professor Jim Shaw in the Institute of Cellular Medicine and NESCI being awarded NSCAG funding to establish the first UK pancreatic islet cell transplantation programme, aimed at “curing” diabetes. The Trust continues to host more NSCAG centres than any other in the UK and which in almost all cases are led by Faculty-based clinical academics. Finally, clinical and scientific members of the Northern Institute for Cancer Research (NICR) were recently awarded a £2.4 million Cancer Research UK/DoH Experimental Cancer Centre to develop new therapies.
Research and Development infrastructure and programmes are based on four sites. Firstly on the Freeman Hospital site, the new Northern Centre for Cancer Care includes the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation funded Cancer Clinical Research facility which will relocate early and late phase cancer clinical trials into a simple state-of-the-art research facility. Plans are also well advanced for a new, innovative Transplantation Institute which will be the only centre outside of North America, housing facilities for all organ transplantation within the same building.
On the former Newcastle General Hospital (NGH) site, the Campus for Ageing and Vitality continues to take shape with the latest phase being the new £7.4 million Edwardson Building housing new facilities for research into brain ageing being funded largely by the new MRC Centre award. The Wellcome Trust funded (£7.8 million) Clinical Ageing Research Unit (CARU) opened in June 2008 adding to the Newcastle MRI Centre opened on 2006 and the Wellcome Biogerontology building, the main base for the Faculty’s Institute for Ageing and Health, which opened in 2003.
Plans are well advanced for a new Translational Research Building to complete the campus, thereby bringing together clinical services for patients with age related disease; new laboratory facilities for ageing nutrition research; and facilities for commercial activity related to this research. This combination of innovative clinical services, a dedicated ageing clinical research facility and laboratories housing basic ageing research is now the envy of Europe and North America with ageing research the Faculty’s undoubted “flagship”.
At the International Centre for Life (ICfL), research into stem cell therapies continues to grow. This truly joint Faculty/Trust venture has led to the formation of the North of England Stem Cell Institute (NESCI) in collaboration with colleagues at Durham University. Recent successes have included the successful use of stem cell therapy for patients blinded by corneal injury. World class scientists continue to be attracted to work at the two Faculty Institutes based at the ICfL, the Institute of Human Genetics (IHG) and NESCI. Most recently, Professor Kim Spyrodopolous joined us from Germany to work with Professor Bernard Keavney on cardiovascular ageing. As further recognition of the quality of cardiovascular research performed in the IHG and NESCI, the British Heart Foundation re-established the BHF Cardiovascular Chair, awarded to Professor Keavney along with considerable infrastructure and funding support.
Finally, on the Royal Victoria Infirmary site the Faculty and Trust are examining ways of maximising research and development opportunities provided by the exciting new facilities shortly to open on the site. For example, we are looking to develop an international centre of excellence in paediatrics based around the new Great North Children’s Hospital and the Faculty’s Child Health Research Group, with its strong academic track record in cancer, immunodeficiency and childhood disability. We are also looking to build an academic trauma unit around the opening of the new major Trauma Centre which is set to serve the North East.
Teaching & Training
The Trust and Faculty continue to collaborate closely in providing excellent undergraduate and postgraduate training. Our undergraduate medical and dental programme continues to perform extremely well in national league tables with the medical course ranked first in the whole of England in the 2007 National Student Survey and dentistry third. As a further mark of our outstanding undergraduate programmes, a recent independent study reported that graduates from Newcastle Medical School performed better in their first professional exams (MRCP) – taken two years after qualifying - than any other medical school graduates other than those from Cambridge, who performed equally as well. The Trust continues to be the major centre for teaching our medical students, 350 of whom graduate each year and become young doctors throughout the North East.
The Dental Schoolproduces over 80 new dentists each year being accommodated in an integrated Dental Hospital & School of which we are justly proud. Almost every Consultant within the Trust plays an important role in the clinical teaching of medical and dental students and the Faculty continues to be extremely appreciative of this unstinting commitment - some of which is well over and above the call of duty.
Successful Academic Foundation Doctor Programmes
In addition to undergraduate training, the Trust/Faculty partnership is now playing a vital role in the training of future clinical academics. Together with the North East Strategic Health Authority (SHA) the partnership hosts a very successful academic foundation doctor programmes and, against strong competition, has been awarded the fourth highest number of Academic Clinical Fellowship programmes in the country as well as several Academic Clinical Lecturer and Senior Lecturer posts.
These part centrally (DoH) funded posts are designed to support academic clinicians in training from their first jobs through to academic consultants. Almost all of the Academic Clinical Fellows and Lecturers awarded to the region are supervised by clinical academics based in the Newcastle Hospitals. As a result of this success, Newcastle is gaining a growing national reputation for the training of academic clinicians, most recently recognised by the Faculty being awarded a new Wellcome-funded Clinical Fellowship Scheme in Clinical Pharmacology. This innovative scheme, led by Trust based academic clinicians, is a partnership with five pharmaceutical companies aimed at training academic clinicians in modern pharmacological methods increasing their capacity to turn advances in basic science into novel therapies. Along with Imperial and Cambridge, Newcastle was one of only three centres in UK to be awarded these schemes.
National budgets for all teaching training and continuing education of medical professionals have now been devolved to Strategic Health Authorities. The Faculty continues to work closely with the SHA and our other regional partners to ensure that our acknowledged excellent undergraduate medical and dental teaching, along with our emerging strength in the training of clinical academics continues to thrive, whatever emerges from recommendations in the Tooke report on Medical Training. Also working closely with the SHA we are beginning to use other areas of expertise within the Faculty to develop new postgraduate courses aimed at clinicians and professions allied to medicine. This includes the new Certificate in Clinical Research aimed at all professionals within the Health Service faced with the challenges presented by the new NIHR R&D funding regime.
Economic Development of the North East of England
As the two largest employers in the City, the Trust and University partnership has a vital role to play in the economic development of the North East of England. The partnership is currently developing a combined commercialisation and intellectual property strategy and is considering establishing a joint commercialisation vehicle for further development of the Campus for Ageing and Vitality. Both the Faculty and the Trust have worked closely with a major retailer in developing proposals for an innovative retail outlet on the former NGH site focussed on improving the retail experience for our ageing population. Working closely with the City Council and the former regional development agency One NorthEast, the Faculty, in partnership with the Trust, continues to play a full role in developing themes aiming out of the Newcastle Science City initiative ie. Ageing and Vitality, Genetics, Stem Cells and Regenerative Medicine at International Centre for Life.
Professor Christopher Day
Pro Vice Chancellor
Faculty of Medical Sciences