The Midlands is delivering nearly £100m of research to support the nation’s fight against COVID-19

A new report - Mobilising Research Excellence in the Midlands to Tackle COVID-19 - published today (Friday, January 15 2021) reveals that the Midlands has moved swiftly to apply its wealth of capability in its hospitals, universities and businesses to deliver £90m of research to support regional, national and global efforts to tackle the Coronavirus Pandemic.

The report - which can be viewed here - highlights that:

  • Experts in the Midlands are leading 81 new COVID-19 research programmes.
  • The region is playing a crucial and integral role in the world-leading genome sequencing consortium which is identifying the strains of COVID-19 recently in the UK and internationally.
  • The Midlands has used its internationally leading research excellence and clinical trials infrastructure to recruit over 50,000 patients to COVID-19 clinical trials, driving the discovery of new treatments and scientific insights.
  • The region has successfully bid for £45m of funding enabling the delivery of £90m of cutting-edge COVID-19 related research.
  • The region was at the forefront of the early detection of the heightened risks of COVID-19 to the country’s Black and Ethnic Minority population and bringing this to clinical attention.

The volume of research projects and clinical trials that the Midlands is not just involved in, but in many cases leading, is exceptional. During the pandemic, the region’s outstanding clinical trials investigators and infrastructure have worked with national organisations to streamline processes and have delivered complex and adaptive clinical trial designs, exceptional recruitment levels and high-quality execution at speeds that were previously thought to be impossible. By combining this with the ability to leverage expertise, integrated with local infrastructure and community engagement, the region now hosts a world-class COVID-19 clinical trials environment, delivering nationally-leading patient recruitment that have recruited over 15% of all UK patients who are taking part in COVID-19 trials. Over 50,000 patients have been recruited by 542 sites in the region, participating in 46 COVID-19 clinical research trials.

The Midlands Life Science community, made up of over 1,200 companies, including the country’s highest number of medical technologies companies and supporting over 30,000 jobs, has played a key role in the national effort against COVID-19. The Midlands is ideally placed to tackle the coronavirus, with the largest number of Life Science companies outside London and the South East, a globally representative population engaged with research, and a fully-integrated clinical research infrastructure.

The region is also driving the sector internationally, not least because of the world-class Midlands universities, seven of which have Medical Schools. These are all working to promote strong collaboration between academia, industry and health. A prime example of this collaboration is the University of Oxford / AstraZeneca UK vaccine, which is being manufactured by Cobra Biologics on Keele University's Science and Innovation Park. 

The Midlands has a proven reputation for rapid design and delivery of world-class adaptive clinical trials at a national and international scale through the region’s impressive clinical trials cluster. The Midlands delivers innovation for patients and drives accelerated translational excellence in specialist areas including trial design, usability, testing and innovative engagement of patients and industry. We have a wide range of clinical specialisms, including respiratory disease, BAME health, and diabetes, and have led the global effort in the methodologies used to evaluate and accredit diagnostic tests for COVID-19.

A core strength of the Midlands’ academic excellence and knowledge economy is data-driven healthcare. The region hosts a rapidly-growing cluster of digital health companies (including more digital start-ups than any UK area outside of London), as well as world-leading academic and clinical expertise (including the Centre for BME Health and the Health Data Research UK Midlands Substantive Site).

The Midlands is ideally placed to face the future challenges of COVID-19, including long COVID, rehabilitation and returning to work post COVID-19. Utilising the new National Rehabilitation Centre which is to be built in Leicestershire, NIHR Patient Recruitment Centre: Leicester* and Your COVID Recovery programme**, as well as our existing expertise and facilities, the Midlands will continue to drive forward research excellence to fight COVID-19 and save lives.

Sir John Peace, Chairman of the Midlands Engine, which has recently launched Midlands Engine Health – a vehicle to amplify on the national stage the world-leading health research in the Midlands region-  said: “The Midlands is delivering world-leading, life changing clinical research in response to COVID-19. Working together across the region, the NHS, universities and industry are meeting the challenge, driving lifesaving treatments for COVID-19 and improving outcomes.”

Midlands Health Alliance (MHA) is an alliance between the outstanding Midlands NIHR infrastructure (including Biomedical Research Centres, Clinical Research Facilities, Clinical Research Networks, Applied Research Collaboration plus the Academic Health Science Networks).

Professor Ian Hall, Director of the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Nottingham Biomedical Research Centre and Co-Chair of the Midlands Health Alliance, said:“Nationally, the major part played by Midlands’ centres, particularly in recruitment to clinical trials, has been important. Without recruitment to these trials we would not have identified the drugs which we now know can be used in the treatment of hospitalised patients with COVID-19.

“The Midlands is also playing a significant role in the vaccine studies. There have also been major contributions from individuals based in the Midlands to national planning for COVID-19, including important contributions to the Department of Health and Social Care, UK COVID-19 Therapeutics Advisory Panel, NIHR and SAGE. It is really encouraging to see the close working across the region and beyond which has happened, and I am delighted that MHA has been able to play a role in supporting this.”

Midlands Innovation Health (MIH) aims to deliver improved health and regional growth by coordinating and combining the collective excellence available in the seven research intensive Medical and Healthcare Universities in the Midlands (Aston, Keele and Loughborough Universities and the Universities of Leicester, Nottingham and Warwick). Professor Sudhesh Kumar OBE, Convener of Midlands Innovation Health and Dean of Medicine at the University of Warwick, said: “Whether it is to do with developing novel tests or designing and executing clinical trials at speed, individually and collectively, MIH has shown agility and responsiveness to this major public health emergency, helped by significant reduction of bureaucracy. We can see from the snapshot of exemplar projects in this report, creative new approaches to solving this societal challenge using any method possible drawing from expertise across a wide range of disciplines. What is also positive is the way Universities, NHS and industry are collaborating not only across Midlands, but also across the UK and Internationally.”

Dr Darren Clark, Chief Executive Medilink Midlands (representing the Midlands Life Sciences industry association), said: “The Midlands has a unique set of capabilities and offers for Life Science companies. Our tenacity and resilience allows us to weather whatever storms life throws at us. With COVID, as with any problem we are faced with, the Midlands Life Science industry delivered a solution to what seemed at times, an insurmountable obstacle. It’s thanks to our companies that we were able to help those most in need at this time and make a significant contribution to addressing this world-wide pandemic.”

The report is co-produced by the Midlands Health Alliance, Midlands Innovation Health, and Medilink Midlands to highlight the region’s research excellence to support national COVID-19 pandemic efforts.

The report will be officially launched and discussed by an invited audience of regional MPs and leading figures from the Midlands’ healthcare sector, industry, and academic experts later today (Friday January 15 2021).

Notes for editors

Press release reference number: PR 21/06

Notes to editors:

  • See page 3 of the report for Executive Summary of the key COVID research that is taking place in the region.
  • In the Midlands there are 20 Universities, 7 Medical Schools, 52 NHS Trusts, 17 Acute Trusts, 215 NIHR funded infrastructure, 48 Clinical Commissioning Groups, 21 Science and Innovation Parks, 2 Life Science Opportunity Zones, 2 Medilinks, and 1 HDR (Health Data Research) UK Substantive Site (The University of Birmingham, alongside University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust and  the Universities of Leicester, Nottingham and Warwick work collaboratively to address challenging healthcare issues through the use of data science).
  • Medilink Midlands is the Midlands Life Sciences industry association whose aim is to help companies establish, develop and grow. Its network of more than 8,000 contacts in over 1,700 organisations represents all aspects of the sector; from multi-nationals to high potential start-up companies, as well as the NHS and universities.

*NIHR Patient Recruitment Centre: Leicester is dedicated to setting up and delivering late phase commercial clinical trials in the NHS at pace and scale. It is one of five Patient Recruitment Centres that work collaboratively, through an innovative national franchise-like model, to make it easier and quicker to deliver commercial research in the UK,  increasing opportunities for NHS patients to access cutting-edge treatment and therapies that are not widely available through the NHS.

**The ‘Your COVID recovery programme is the brainchild of Professor Sally Singh of the University of Leicester, who worked with national clinical leaders to build the ground-breaking ‘Your Covid Recovery’ online service and is now working with the NHS nationally to roll it out across the country.

The new  service forms part of NHS plans to expand access to COVID-19 rehabilitation treatments for those who have survived the virus but still have problems with breathing, mental health problems or other complications.


Loughborough is one of the country’s leading universities, with an international reputation for research that matters, excellence in teaching, strong links with industry, and unrivalled achievement in sport and its underpinning academic disciplines.

It has been awarded five stars in the independent QS Stars university rating scheme, named the best university in the world for sports-related subjects in the 2020 QS World University Rankings and University of the Year by The Times and Sunday Times University Guide 2019.

Loughborough is in the top 10 of every national league table, being ranked 7th in the Guardian University League Table 2021, 5th in the Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide 2020 and 6th in The UK Complete University Guide 2021.

Loughborough is consistently ranked in the top twenty of UK universities in the Times Higher Education’s ‘table of tables’ and is in the top 10 in England for research intensity. In recognition of its contribution to the sector, Loughborough has been awarded seven Queen's Anniversary Prizes.

The Loughborough University London campus is based on the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and offers postgraduate and executive-level education, as well as research and enterprise opportunities. It is home to influential thought leaders, pioneering researchers and creative innovators who provide students with the highest quality of teaching and the very latest in modern thinking.


The NIHR Nottingham Biomedical Research Centre is translating research into breakthrough treatments, new technologies and advanced medicines for common illnesses like asthma and arthritis.

Our research is led by internationally-renowned clinicians, scientists and academics working together to improve the health of our patients and our communities.

Our expertise in respiratory medicine and MRI is at the forefront of COVID-19 research for effective treatments and vaccines, as well as contributing to the world’s understanding of Coronavirus.

The Nottingham Biomedical Research Centre is funded by the National Institute for Health Research and is a partnership between Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust (NUH) and the University of Nottingham, working with Nottinghamshire Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust and Sherwood Forest Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust.  It is based at NUH.

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The National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) is the nation's largest funder of health and care research. The NIHR:

  • Funds, supports and delivers high quality research that benefits the NHS, public health and social care
  • Engages and involves patients, carers and the public in order to improve the reach, quality and impact of research
  • Attracts, trains and supports the best researchers to tackle the complex health and care challenges of the future
  • Invests in world-class infrastructure and a skilled delivery workforce to translate discoveries into improved treatments and services
  • Partners with other public funders, charities and industry to maximise the value of research to patients and the economy

The NIHR was established in 2006 to improve the health and wealth of the nation through research, and is funded by the Department of Health and Social Care. In addition to its national role, the NIHR supports applied health research for the direct and primary benefit of people in low- and middle-income countries, using UK aid from the UK government.

This work uses data provided by patients and collected by the NHS as part of their care and support and would not have been possible without access to this data. The NIHR recognises and values the role of patient data, securely accessed and stored, both in underpinning and leading to improvements in research and care.