An international judging panel has awarded five sites in the UK with Academic Health Science Centre status, under a drive to help patients gain quicker access to research innovation on the National Health Service.

The centres - namely Cambridge University Health Partners, Imperial College, King’s Health Partners, Manchester AHSC and UCL Partners - represent partnerships between “world-class” universities and leading NHS organisations, all with the common goal of facilitating patient access to breakthroughs in clinical research.

It is envisaged that the partnerships will work hand in hand “to deliver world-class research, education and patient care for the benefit of their local communities, then promote the application of their discoveries in the NHS and across the world”, according to the Department of Health.

The centres, which will carry the AHSC badge for at least five years, were cherry-picked by an international panel of clinicians and clinical researchers for their potential to compete with sites already established around the world, such as in Singapore and the Netherlands, and are “well-placed” to attract fresh talent and funding, “drawing in economic benefits for the UK as a whole,” the DH said.

Competitive edge?
Commenting on the awards, Health Secretary Alan Johnson stressed: “In times of economic uncertainty it is even more important that we continue to support this country's knowledge industries to ensure that we benefit from the competitive edge which they provide”.

And panel member Victor Dzau, Chancellor for Health Affairs of Duke University, said the newly awarded AHSCs are “exemplars of partnership and innovation” that will “contribute to the vision outlined in High Quality Care for All and help to enable global competitiveness here in the UK”.

The first AHSC was given the green light back in 2007, when plans to integrate Imperial College with two local hospitals - Hammersmith Hospitals NHS Trust and St Mary’s Hospital NHS Trust - were approved by Johnson. At the time, the move was hailed as a major advance for patient care, clinical teaching and scientific invention and innovation.

In his vision for the future of the NHS, published in June last year, Lord Ara Darzi subsequently cemented his commitment to accelerating the uptake of new medicines in the NHS, and it is hoped that the fusion of frontline health staff and those working behind the scenes to develop novel treatments will bring significant benefits to patients and advances in healthcare.