£20m funding for five centres at Imperial to help protect public health

Imperial is establishing five centres of excellence with a £20m research investment by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR).

The funding is part of a £58.7m investment by National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) in 14 multidisciplinary centres of excellence across the UK, known as NIHR Health Protection Units (HPRUs). They will aim to protect the public from health threats such as antimicrobial resistance, air pollution and infectious diseases.

This new support will be deployed to help make the world healthier, more sustainable and resilient Professor Alice Gast President of Imperial College London

The HPRUs, first launched in 2014, are partnerships between top universities and Public Health England (PHE).

They carry out high quality research that enhances the ability of PHE to use innovative techniques to protect the public’s health and minimise the health impact of emergencies.

Imperial will have now have more HPRUs than any other academic institution – and will host five in total, in the following areas:

  • Healthcare Associated Infections and Antimicrobial Resistance
  • Respiratory Infections
  • Modelling and Health Economics
  • Environmental Exposures and Health
  • Chemical and Radiation Threats and Hazards

All the HPRUs will have an additional focus on collaboration and knowledge sharing, and will play a pivotal role in maintaining and growing PHE’s scientific expertise and future workforce. The units will also deliver responsive research to tackle emerging or potential public health emergencies.

Protecting patients across the globe

Since 2014, NIHR HPRU research has revealed significant findings that have helped safeguard the health and safety of the nation.

At Imperial, research from the NIHR HPRU in Healthcare Associated Infections and Antimicrobial Resistance showed that routine NHS data on drug consumption can help forecast emergence of bacteria that produce carbapenemase, an enzyme that renders penicillin and other common antibiotics ineffective.

The HRPU also has assessed strategies for controlling carbapenemase-producing bacteria, including national screening and isolation, and has undertaken economic analyses of outbreak control in the NHS. Carbapenemase-producing bacteria are dangerous because they are resistant to strong antimicrobials of last resort and cause infection in vulnerable patients in hospital, whose ability to fight infection is low.

Professor Alice Gast, President of Imperial College London, said: “Our researchers deserve congratulations for securing these highly competitive investments. It’s a sign of Imperial’s excellence throughout public health. This new support will be deployed to help make the world healthier, more sustainable and resilient. From building inclusive healthcare systems to tackling emerging threats like coronavirus, we are proud of Imperial’s growing impact in these crucial fields.”

Monitoring outbreaks

Professor Jonathan Weber, Dean of Imperial’s Faculty of Medicine, said: “Imperial’s existing HPRUs have already produced key findings that have informed public health policy. The five Imperial HPRUs will be at the forefront of addressing global threats to public health, such as antimicrobial resistance, air pollution and infectious disease. The awarding of five HPRUs demonstrates how Imperial is best placed scientifically and clinically to take a lead on public health research, enabling us to protect the health of the global population, and future generations.”

Our partnerships with leading universities play a critical role in building the science that keeps us safe – not just from current threats, but the health challenges of tomorrow Professor Yvonne Doyle Medical Director, Public Health England

Professor Weber added: “The recent report on the Wuhan coronavirus outbreak by Professor Neil Ferguson (Director, Modelling and Health Economics HPRU) was the first to show under-reporting of cases in China, and underpinned the release of data. This has been a tangible demonstration of the agility of this group to monitor, assimilate and publish data on merging diseases”

Health Minister Nicola Blackwood said: “The UK’s achievements in public health to date have saved the lives of millions of people. This would have been impossible without world-leading research conducted by some of brightest minds up and down the country.

“The latest round of NIHR’s Health Protection Research Units, which have previously played a pivotal role in responding to major events such as the Novichok and Ebola incidents, will continue protect the health of the public and reduce inequalities – helping us all live healthier lives.”

Professor Yvonne Doyle, Medical Director at PHE, said: “Tackling major public health threats such as antimicrobial resistance, emerging infections and air pollution requires innovative, collaborative research. Our partnerships with leading universities play a critical role in building the science that keeps us safe – not just from current threats, but the health challenges of tomorrow.”

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