A national network of hubs is being set up across the UK to develop new and improved methods for designing, conducting, analysing and reporting clinical trials.

The Medical Research Council (MRC) has awarded £16 million to support the seven linked hubs in Birmingham, Bristol, Cambridge, Edinburgh, Liverpool, London and Oxford, which will provide expertise across a wide range of research issues and therapeutic areas to bolster the national methodological platform underpinning clinical trials in the UK.

As well as carrying out research on trials methodology, each hub will play a role in providing support and advice to the clinical research community on methodological issues. The hubs will maintain close links with people conducting clinical studies (e.g., in clinical trials units) “to ensure the development of new methods is influenced by real issues”, the MRC noted. They will also support training programmes to enhance the skills base and volume of specialists working in trial methodology research.

The hubs in the MRC-funded Trials Methodology Research Initiative will complement other facets of the Council’s joint strategy for translational research with the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) – such as increased project funding for clinical trials – as well as the MRC-NIHR Methodology Research Programme.

This latter programme is a MRC-managed grant scheme for methods research that underpins not only clinical trials but the whole spectrum of health research from basic to applied, with the aim of accelerating and improving research translation.

“Clinical trials are the gold standard by which new therapies to prevent, diagnose or treat disease, are evaluated,” commented Sir Lesek Borysiewicz, chief executive of the MRC. “This MRC initiative will strengthen existing research and provide additional capacity. Our aim is to develop faster and more robust assessments of whether new therapies or treatments are of benefit to patients.”

The MRC and the NIHR put out a call for hub proposals in January. The initiative was the second tranche of funding under the MRC-NIHR Methodology Research Programme, whose goal is to develop a high-quality national platform in methodology research and establish the UK as a world-class leader in methodological innovation within health research.