Two new consortia have been set up in London and Oxford to pursue collaborative research into infections such as tuberculosis, MRSA and Clostridium difficile, in the first round of funding from the UK Clinical Research Collaboration’s (UKCRC) Translational Infection Research Initiative.

A total of £9 million has been awarded to the consortia by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, the Medical Research Council, the National Institute for Health Research and the Wellcome Trust. The seven partners in the Translational Infection Research Initiative, which was launched just over a year ago, have committed up £16.6 million overall to bolster research into viral and bacterial infections in the UK.

The initiative has its roots in a Strategic Planning Group set up by the UKCRC in February 2006 to develop a co-ordinated approach to improving research into microbiology and infectious diseases in the UK. This highlighted issues such as a lack of clinical and translational research into microbiology and infectious diseases in the UK; difficulties converting basic research advances into practice; and shortages of both medical intelligence and academic capacity in the field.

The two consortia that have secured the first tranche of funding are:

- Integrating Infection Prevention into Heath Care Delivery, based at Imperial College London and also involving Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust and the UK’s Health Protection Agency (HPA);

- Modernising Medical Microbiology: Establishing how New Technologies can be Optimally Integrated into Microbiology. This is based at Oxford University and also involves the Oxford Biomedical Research Centre (a partnership between the Oxford Radcliffe Hospitals and the University of Oxford), the HPA Regional Microbiology Network and the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute.

The London consortium, which is getting funding of £4.2 million, will focus its efforts on individual and organisational behavioural change, as well as modelling, epidemiology, rapid diagnosis and surveillance of selected infectious diseases, to address the challenge of healthcare-associated infection.

The plan is to develop “an organisation-wide approach to infection prevention, from cutting-edge science in molecular epidemiology and pathogenesis to leading research management systems”, noted joint project leader Dr Alison Holmes.

The Oxford consortium will focus on understanding better how infectious diseases are transmitted so that they can be controlled more effectively. This will involve exploiting recent advances in sequencing the genomes of bacterial and viral pathogens of public health concern, so as to improve and speed up their classification and identification.

This is turn should make it easier to track and deal with local outbreaks of infection and identify especially virulent strains, while also helping to pinpoint where infection control guidelines can be improved. “We aim to develop rapid DNA sequence typing techniques so that infection outbreaks can be recognised and followed as they develop, and then successfully interrupted in a targeted way,” said consortium leader Dr Derrick Crook.

A second round of funding under the Translational Infection Research Initiative is scheduled to be awarded in late 2009.

The full set of partners in the initiative are the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council; the Medical Research Council; the National Institute for Health Research; the Northern Ireland Health and Social Care Research and Development Office; the Chief Scientist Office of the Scottish Government Health Directorates; the Wales Office of Research and Development for Health and Social Care, Welsh Assembly Government; and the Wellcome Trust.

The Medical Research Council is providing administrative management for the initiative on behalf of the partners.