The government has announced five-year funding of £800 million for early-stage health research - the UK's largest-ever investment in diagnosis, prevention and treatment.

"This unprecedented investment into the development of innovative medicines and treatments will have a huge impact on the care and services patients receive, and help develop the modern, world-class health service patients deserve," said Prime Minister David Cameron.

The £800 million will be invested to develop NHS and university partnerships through the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR), providing world-class facilities in the NHS, say officials. The partnerships will collaborate with industry and charities, helping to develop the UK's science and research base and secure it as a world leader in health research, they add.

The 31 investment awards will benefit patients with diseases such as cancer, diabetes and heart disease, and include funding for four new Biomedical Research Units specialising in dementia research.

"A strong competitive science and research base is a crucial part of securing sustainable economic growth and creating jobs of the future, and we have some of the best scientists and facilities in the world. This investment will help ensure we continue to be at the cutting edge," added Mr Cameron.

Health Secretary Andrew Lansley said the government wants to ensure it can give NHS patients the "very best" possible treatments and health outcomes, and to do this it needs to give British scientists the means and tools to develop "ground-breaking, world-class health research."

"That's why, as part of our £4 billion investment in R&D, we have committed £800 million for translational research - developing exciting new science into tangible, effective treatments that can be used across the NHS. This will help deliver real improvements in patients' chances of surviving and living a more independent, healthier and better quality of life," said Mr Lansley.

He also pointed to the strong presence of dementia research in the funding programme. "Dementia is one of the most important issues that we face as our population ages…so it is essential that we develop new treatments to help NHS patients and their families," he said.

"This record investment, part of our essential modernisation plans, will secure the NHS as a world leader in translational research, as well as helping to ensure we give patients the very best treatment possible," said Mr Lansley.

The NIHR Centres and Units receiving the awards have been selected because of the world-class quality of their translational research, added the Chief Medical Officer, Professor Dame Sally Davies.

"By focusing on translational research across a wide range of diseases, the Centres and Units will help pull new scientific discoveries into benefits for NHS patients. I believe they will make a significant impact on the health of the population," she said.

The NHS in England has become one of the best environments in the world for undertaking cutting-edge translational research, and this is creating "real opportunities for improving the health of patients, as well as positioning the UK as a preferred site for clinical development by the pharmaceutical and biotech industries," noted Sir John Bell, president of the Academy of Medical Sciences (AMS).

"Much of this capability is the result of careful and strategic investment in research infrastructure by the NIHR. The Biomedical Research Centres and Units are an excellent example of this investment and have transformed the relationship between hospitals and the research community," said Sir John.