The UK Clinical Research Collaboration (UKCRC) has secured funding of £16.5 million from seven partners for a nationwide initiative to bolster research into viral and bacterial infections.

The investment to establish the UKCRC Translational Infection Research Initiative comes from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, the government health departments of England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, the Medical Research Council (MRC) and the Wellcome Trust. The MRC will provide administrative management for the initiative on behalf of the partners.

The £16.5 million funding will be distributed through two channels: consortium grants, aimed at fostering multidisciplinary, multisectoral partnerships to conduct high-quality, goal-oriented infection research and to build academic capacity, training and infrastructure in the field; and strategy development grants, which should enable researchers to develop “realistic and relevant research strategies and partnerships with the potential for significant national impact.”

A co-ordinated approach

The initiative arose from a Strategic Planning Group (SPG) 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.

Comprised of the major funding organisations in this area and chaired by Sir John Lilleyman, formerly of the National Patient Safety Agency, the SPG considered the findings of recent major reviews of infection research, consulted with key professional organisations in the field and reviewed other sources of evidence, including the UKCRC’s Health Research Analysis, carried out in 2005-6. The main issues identified were:

- A lack of clinical and translational research into microbiology and infectious diseases, as well as difficulties converting basic research advances into practice;

- A relative lack of medical intelligence, such as evidence of the basic efficacy of existing diagnostics, prevention measures, treatments and services. There was also not enough work on novel diagnostics, while existing surveillance data were underexploited;

- Barriers to communication and collaborative working; and

- Insufficient academic capacity in terms of workforce, training and career structure.

Based on these findings, the three key objectives of the UKCRC Translational Infection Research Initiative are to: boost capacity for translational and applied infection research in both the clinical and public health contexts; develop research leadership in the field; and encourage collaboration, communication and training while helping to strengthen associated research activity.

There will be two funding rounds under the initiative. The first will consider applications for SDG or CG funding, with deadlines of October 3, 2007, and April 2008, respectively, for receipt of full grant proposals. The second round, for Consortia only, will take place after the expiry of the initial grants, giving SDG holders from the first round the opportunity to apply for full Consortium funding. The deadline for receipt of full proposals in the second round will be the end of July 2009.

The expectation is that funds will be allocated to support up to two first-round Consortia, two to three second-round Consortia and up to six SDGs. An open meeting for potential applicants will be held in London on July 17.

Significant burden

Persistent viral and bacterial infections are a significant burden on patients and the National Health Service, the UKCRC noted. Food-borne infections are “a constant threat,” as is the emergence of exotic viruses and strains of known pathogens that have developed resistance to current treatments.

For example, some 4,500 people are believed to be infected with the hepatitis C virus in the UK, a figure that could rise to 7,000 by 2010. Among the growing incidence of sexually transmitted infections, particularly in young women, there were more than 100,000 diagnoses of Chlamidia trachomatis in 2005. And at any one time, some 8% of patients in acute hospitals have a hospital-acquired infection, the UKCRC pointed out.