Internet Explorer is no longer supported by Microsoft. To browse the NIHR site please use a modern, secure browser like Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, or Microsoft Edge.

NIHR explains: Industry’s guide to UK research terminology

Different countries, sectors and organisations often favour distinct terminology and the UK health and care sector is no different. We’ve put together a list of some of the phrases and terminology you are likely to encounter when learning about the research opportunities that are available in the UK via the NIHR.

Quick links:

Commercial, collaborative or non-commercial research defined

In the UK, we tend to talk about research in categories that reflect the funding organisation.

A commercial study normally means that both the funder and the sponsor is a commercial organisation, such as a life science company.

A ‘non-commercial’ research study is funded and sponsored by non-profit organisations such as a research council, NHS trust, health or research charity, government department, or university.

The label ‘collaborative’ refers to research that is funded by a commercial organisation or a government funding agency, such as the NIHR, whereas the sponsor is a non-commercial organisation - usually an NHS organisation or a university. Many of the NIHR funding programmes are collaborative  - this means that they require a commercial organisation to have an NHS or university partner.

'Free' support for the life science industry

What exactly do we mean when we say ‘our services are free’?

The ‘free’ support that the NIHR provides to commercial companies does not relate to direct delivery costs. We are funded by the UK government to work in partnership with the life sciences industry to enable companies to effectively and efficiently plan, place and deliver research within the UK health and social care environment.

The key word here is ‘enable’.

Our support and services are designed to enable you to take the next step on your research journey quickly and easily, saving you time and money in the process. That support comes in many forms. For example when you are planning research, our support focuses more on knowledge and information sharing. This includes:

  • general advice on how the research system works, the different organisations involved, and the path your research may follow
  • help to find and connect with clinical, academic, health economists and other experts who can work with you to develop your product or innovation for health and care services
  • information on relevant funding programmes you may be eligible for - especially if you have an NHS or academic partner (see previous bullet)

Once you have a more tangible plan in place, perhaps even a draft protocol, the services available are more specific and outcome focussed, such as:

  • acquiring confirmation from clinical/care/research delivery experts that your protocol is deliverable and compatible with UK clinical/care practice
  • finding and engaging investigators and sites to conduct your research
  • access to key opinion leaders (KOLs) in the field to support study design and protocol development for funding applications
  • access to tools and systems to complete the costing and contracting activities for your study
  • support to get your study set-up and keep it on track, again using national tools and systems

Like anywhere else in the world, when a commercial company contracts with a research site in the UK to deliver a study or trial they will need to cover 100% the costs. (Learn more about how we do this in the National Contract Value Review section below).

We do have one service which is a paid-for service. Our Patient Engagement in Clinical Development service is a full-cost recovery service. This financial model ensures that patient and public participants are fully and fairly reimbursed for providing their time and expertise for helping to make your research patient-friendly.

Our dedicated Industry team has extensive knowledge of all NIHR-funded services and facilities. They will ensure you are aware of all your support options.

National Contract Value Review (NCVR)

National Contract Value Review (NCVR) is the UK’s national approach to costing and contracting for commercial contract research. It ensures consistency and predictability of trial pricing across the UK for commercial sponsors. It is mandatory for all late-phase commercial trials (phase 2b and above) taking place in NHS organisations and preparations are underway to expand NCVR to all commercial research.

Learn more about NCVR.

The 'NIHR Portfolio' versus 'CPMS' (Central Portfolio Management System)

This one is simple. If you hear people talking about ‘the NIHR Portfolio’ they are more than likely referring to the ‘body of research’ that we support.

It's a general term - the 'Portfolio' comprises all the studies and trials that receive tangible services and support from the NIHR - from funding, to protocol review, to costing and contracting, to site identification, to set-up support, to progress monitoring. The NIHR Portfolio includes all commercial, non-commercial and collaborative research. Sometimes people refer to the ‘cancer portfolio’ or ‘diabetes portfolio’ - they are just referring to a sub-section of the entire Portfolio. Similarly, people may refer to the 'commercial' or 'non-commercial' portfolio which refers to how studies are funded.

To be included in the Portfolio, your study needs to meet the Eligibility Criteria for NIHR Clinical Research Network Support which is set by the Department of Health and Social Care.

CPMS (Central Portfolio Management System), on the other hand, is more specific. This refers to the IT system in which we collate real-time research activity data and related information from across the entire UK. This system enables all our research intelligence, insights and a number of our support services. Some specific services are requested via CPMS. If you wish to access this support you will need to create a CPMS account, log in and provide information about your planned research activities.

We also collect data on study milestones and targets from all study sponsors via CPMS. Visibility of this real-time research activity data helps us to understand and utilise all the capacity in the health research system to deliver research quickly and efficiently.

Want to know more? You may find our 10-step user guide for our Study Support Service helpful.

‘Devolved nations’ and ‘devolved administrations’

The UK is made up of four nations. We (the NIHR) operate in England. The devolved nations are Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland. Each devolved nation has its own body that governs the delivery of health and care research - these are the devolved administrations:

However, you will discover across our website that our research systems, some of our funding programmes, services and processes are UK-wide. For example, National Contract Value Review (NCVR) (described above) is the UK-wide standardised approach to costing and contracting for commercial contract research, and our site identification service is the only UK-wide site identification service. We work closely with our colleagues in Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales to provide a seamless service to companies bringing research to the UK.

Inclusive research, under-represented and under-served communities

Equality, diversity and inclusion - or EDI as it is often referred to - is an area where different people, groups, organisations, countries may have preferences for specific terminology. For example, some people may prefer to use ‘equity’ over ‘equality’ and a common quandary is whether or not to use ‘under-represented’ or ‘underserved’?

In an NIHR support context we often talk about exploring how we can help to make research more ‘inclusive’. However, it’s important to remember that the language is subjective and while we should strive to use the preferred terms where possible, we should not let fear of getting it wrong subdue the conversation.

By working with diverse stakeholders (including patients and the public) the NIHR-INCLUDE project identified the term ‘underserved’ as the most appropriate term when referring to potential participants. The consensus was that this term reflects the idea that the research community needs to work harder to provide a better service for people in these groups; their lack of inclusion is not due to any fault of the members of these groups.

Consequently, the term has subsequently been adopted by the NIHR and more widely across the UK. In contrast, our colleagues in the USA have indicated that the term ‘underrepresented’ tends to be more popular. Our advice is to keep an open mind and, if in doubt, ask which terminology people prefer.

Funding opportunities for the life sciences industry

The NIHR has 11 research programmes that fund multidisciplinary health and social care research in both clinical and non-clinical settings to meet a range of evidence priorities.

Most of our funding programmes fund ‘non-commercial’ research. However, we have one funding stream dedicated to supporting the life sciences industry; the Invention for Innovation (i4i) programme is our translational research funding programme for healthtech innovations. The i4i Awards fund breakthrough technologies and de-risk projects for follow-on investment.

Our dedicated Industry team help you explore which i4i Award is most suited to your innovation.

How the NIHR and NHS are connected

The NIHR is often referred to as ‘the most integrated health research system in the world’. This is because the ‘NIHR’ and the ‘NHS’ are intrinsically linked.

We are both funded by the UK government’s Department of Health and Social Care in England. The NHS is our publicly funded healthcare system. We - the NIHR - fund health and social care research in the UK and globally. In England, we also support all NHS health and care services to participate in (deliver) high-quality research.

We do this in a range of different ways, most visibly, we fund many research facilities and healthcare professionals embedded within the NHS. This includes part-funding NHS clinicians and clinical academics to dedicate time to clinical research, and sharing their expertise with health innovators.

Terminology: NIHR-funded research 'infrastructure’

Each year, the NIHR invests more than £606 million in centres of excellence, collaborations, services, facilities and people to enable and support research delivery. Collectively we call this the NIHR-funded research infrastructure. This is awarded through several different five-year infrastructure funding schemes which usually target areas of strategic importance.

Explore the different types of NIHR research infrastructure or read more about why we fund research infrastructure in this way.