Published: 23 January 2024
The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) has today published the NIHR’s annual report and accounts for 2022/23. It highlights the exciting, publicly-funded work that helps maintain Britain's position as a global life sciences leader.
Through the NIHR, the DHSC continues to invest in a broad range of research. Particular focus is given to three areas of impact:
- Improving people’s quality of life
- Maintaining the excellence of UK science
- Delivering economic returns from research, including for the NHS
For every £1 invested by the NIHR, a return of £19 to the wider wealth of the nation is generated.
The annual report sets out a number of examples of important research:
- Findings from the NIHR-funded Protect trial showed men with localised prostate cancer who are actively monitored, have the same survival rates after 15 years as men treated with radiotherapy or surgery. It is the longest-running study of its kind and 1,643 men took part. This is the latest study to build on a large body of research and evidence commissioned by the Government on prostate cancer. It has transformed the way prostate cancer treatment is managed, and improved the quality of care for those affected.
- A teenage girl's incurable cancer was cleared from her body using genetically modified immune cells. This ground-breaking work points to future treatments for cancer. It is the first time this form of the treatment has been used in a patient, thanks to research DHSC supported through the NIHR Biomedical Research Centre at Great Ormond Street Hospital.
- Research funded by the NIHR Policy Research Programme found that waiting lists for NHS bowel screening programme could be safely reduced by increasing the blood level on the test that triggers an invitation for a colonoscopy, raising the threshold for when tests would be triggered. Applying this approach would result in both shorter waiting times for patients, and cost savings for the NHS.
- A study found that people on long-term immune suppressing medicines can double their antibody response to the COVID-19 booster vaccination by interrupting their treatment for two weeks after having the jab. This is protecting vulnerable people from Covid and reducing incidence in the community. It was funded by the Government through the NIHR and MRC.
- A research evidence collection that showed providing personalised continence care for people living with dementia is essential to improving their health and dignity. It found people living with dementia in care homes, homes and hospitals would benefit from improved continence care.
- A global health study found that changing gloves and instruments before closing wounds could reduce infections and provide safer surgery for thousands of patients in low and middle income settings. The research, conducted in seven different countries around the world, found as many as 1 in 8 infections could be prevented by routinely switching gloves and instruments during surgery.
- NIHR has continued to invest in AI and digital innovation. This included a range of research into how technology can make detection and diagnosis faster and better, for example, for people with severe respiratory conditions, and those with early dementia. The NIHR AI Health and Care Award issued funding to 9 new studies to improve tests and treatments for patients. This is an important developing area for the NIHR, where the total investment in AI technologies is £123 million since 2019 and rising.
- The establishment of ten Health Determinant Research Collaborations (HDRCs) is boosting local authorities’ capacity to conduct high-quality research into the social, economic and environmental factors that lead to health inequalities. They work in some of the most deprived areas of the country.
Rebuilding the research system after COVID-19
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the UK’s clinical research portfolio was pivoted to focus on COVID-19 research. This meant that the UK was the only country able to work at scale and run trials large enough to test treatments. Since then, the NIHR has worked with the DHSC and NHS England through the Research Reset Programme to recover the portfolio of clinical studies.
This has been hugely successful. By the end of March 2023 the NIHR had nearly 6,000 studies covering a wide range of topics and disease areas on the portfolio. This is almost 500 more than in 2019. Recruitment to studies stood at around 71,000 people per month, up from 61,000 pre-pandemic. Over a million people took part in clinical studies over the year.
To encourage investment in the UK life sciences industry, in 2022/23 the DHSC announced a new 10-year partnership with Moderna and a memorandum of understanding with BioNtech. Both companies are leaders in messenger RNA technology. They are developing innovative personalised immunotherapies for cancer and infectious disease vaccines. The NIHR will support delivery of their clinical trials, ensuring UK patients are some of the first in the world to access their new treatments.
Excluding COVID-19 research spend, overall NIHR spend increased in 2022/23 by 3.4% from 2021/22, enabling extra investment in research funding, infrastructure and training.
Overall, the NIHR’s total spend in 2022/23, excluding Official Development Assistance, was £1.249bn*. This represented a similar amount to that spent in 2021/22. Total NIHR spend including Official Development Assistance was £1.320bn.
Dr Gail Marzetti, Director of Science, Research and Evidence in DHSC, said:
“Our annual report this year highlights the substantial efforts that have been made to invest the public money we are given wisely and for best impact. From understanding pressures on the NHS, to investing in cutting edge AI tools, it details the many ways we have helped our world-class researchers produce leading science that will improve both the health and wealth of our nation.
“And as we continue to rebuild the health and care research system following the pandemic, it is heartening to see how the number of people taking part in research studies, and the number of studies they can take part in, has increased beyond pre-pandemic levels.
“There is always more work to be done, but as our annual report shows, the UK continues to have one of the most vibrant and innovative research sectors, and remains one of the best places to conduct health and care research in the world.”
Read the Annual Report in full.