The Medical Research Council has awarded £2.3 million to nine different research projects assessing the academic methods employed by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence to make decisions on the value of treatments for the National Health Service.

The Institute assesses both the impact new therapies are expected to have on patients as well as their cost effectiveness before deciding whether they offer value for money and should be used on the NHS, and its recommendations are often used by decision-makers elsewhere in the world.

The aim of the new MRC-funded research, which was first announced last year, is to further develop the methodologies used by the cost watchdog in reaching its decisions, with individual projects looking aspects such as whether measurements of quality-of-life in specific diseases - such as tiredness or cognitive ability - could supplement the traditional quality adjusted life year (QALY) measurements to give a better picture.

Other research picked for a piece of the MRC's grant is investigating whether current methods used to carry out economic modelling in clinical guidelines could be improved, and how the effectiveness of interventions to prevent ill-health by changing people’s behaviour, such as smoking cessation campaigns, could be better assessed.

“Ensuring we have the best tools for evaluating treatments and the effects they have on patients’ lives is a crucial part of bringing medical research to impact on patient care as quickly as possible and ultimately changing lives for the better”, said Professor Tim Peters, Chair of the MRC/NIHR Methodology Research Programme Panel. “By funding this research, the MRC will enhance the methodologies available to the research community and NICE, and in turn enable the UK to maintain its high standards of clinical excellence,” he explained.

NICE’s Clinical and Public Health Director Professor Peter Littlejohns has welcomed the MRC’s funding. “We are continually pushing the boundaries of the existing methodology and we are committed to ensuring the methods remain up-to-date and fit for purpose,” he said, and added “the new tools and methodologies developed by these MRC-funded research projects should do just that”.