Medical Research Council (UK) – Updated October 2013

Updated October 2013

Background Information on the Organisation MRC logo

The MRC’s mission is to improve human health through world-class medical research. To achieve this we support research across the biomedical spectrum, from fundamental lab-based science to clinical trials, and in all major disease areas. We work closely with the NHS and the UK Health Departments to deliver our mission, and give a high priority to research that is likely to make a real difference to clinical practice and the health of the population. MRC’s mission statement is to:

  • Encourage and support research to improve human health.
  • Produce skilled researchers.
  • Advance and disseminate knowledge and technology to improve the quality of life and economic competitiveness of the UK.
  • Promote dialogue with the public about medical research.

The MRC is one of seven UK Research Councils, and receives annual ‘grant-in-aid’ funding from Parliament through the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. Although government-funded, the MRC is independent in its choice of which research it supports.

The MRC supports and advances medical research in three main ways: through our own research facilities, by funding research centres in partnership with universities, and by providing research grants and career awards to scientists in UK universities and hospitals.

MRC website:

Annual Research Budget

In 2012/13, the MRC spent £759 million on research.

Within this, MRC spent £355M on over 440 intramural research programmes in MRC units and institutes, and provided £310M in research grants to universities, medical schools and research institutions.

Stem Cell Budget

MRC is the lead Government agency in funding stem cell research, though significant additional support is provided through three other UK research councils, the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), as well as UK research charities and the Dept of Health (DH). The UK Government funded Technology Strategy Board (TSB) also funds stem cell research in the commercial sector. Funding across these various UK agencies is coordinated through the UK Stem Cell Funders Forum (UKSCFF), chaired by MRC.

  • MRC is the major UK funder of stem cell research, contributing 38% of the UK research portfolio in this area.
  • During the financial year 2011/12 MRC spent £38M on stem cell research.
  • MRC aims to commit £150M overall in regenerative medicine (in addition to research on basic stem cell biology) between 2011 and 2015.

Stem Cell Strategy

MRC’s strategic approach in stem cell research is to:

  • support fundamental stem cell research in order to that provide insights into developmental biology, the control of cell renewal and differentiation, the mechanisms underlying pluripotency, and the aberrant processes that underlie disease pathology
  • provide the necessary infrastructure to provide ethically-sourced stem cell lines to the research community, and promote the development of clinical-grade stem cells and therapeutic delivery;
  • further translation towards the clinic through building enhanced links between basic and clinical stem cell researchers, and the promotion of preclinical research, experimental medicine and early phase clinical trials;
  • provide support for capacity building, through investment in multidisciplinary training, the encouragement of early-stage clinical scientists, and the recruitment of high achievers from overseas;
  • promote interdisciplinary research and cooperation across the domains of academia and industry.

 In terms of ongoing strategy development at the UK level, the following activities should be highlighted:

  • Joint Research Council UK and Technology Strategy Board “AStrategy for UK Regenerative Medicine”

Published in March 2012, A Strategy for UK Regenerative Medicine sets out clear objectives and a delivery plan focused on translating our increased biological understanding into clinical impacts that will benefit both patients and the UK economy.

  • House of Lords Science and technology Committee Inquiry into UK Regenerative Medicine

The Inquiry was set up in July 2012 to examine what the UK is doing well in regenerative medicine and any barriers to its future development and published in July 2013. Particular challenges identified include complexity of the regulatory landscape, support for clinical trials, manufacturing scale up for mid-late stage clinical development, and adoption by healthcare providers (NHS) including re-evaluation of reimbursement models.

Jointly hosted by MRC and TSB, the workshop discussed the emerging opportunities and challenges in iPSC research and sought to identify how the UK research community could best work together to progress the field. MRC is now publishing guidance for researchers, highlighting key issues to consider when working in this field and when seeking funding.

This workshop, considering regulatory lessons and challenges from emerging cell-based therapies, was held at the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) in October 2012 with sponsorship from the Academy of Medical Sciences, Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry, Economic and Social Research Council, Medical Research Council and MHRA. The workshop addressed current regulatory complexity in the UK/EU, regulatory uncertainty in therapeutic development and regulatory needs to support

MRC’s overarching strategy for biomedical research is set out in its Strategic Plan 20019-2014, ‘Research Changes Lives’.

Key Stem  Cell Centres/Investments

Recent Research Achievements and Outputs of Public Interest

Selected MRC press releases since 2011 ISCF Meeting:

Use of stem cells to create a 3D structure that mimics early human brain development. See

Identification of a new type of bone marrow stem cell primed to produce platelets which may lead to the development of new treatments to restore platelets in patients who have undergone chemotherapy or a bone marrow transplant.See

First successful transplant into blind mice of light-sensitive photoreceptor cells taken from a synthetic retina grown ‘in a dish’ from embryonic stem cells. See

Development of a practical and efficient method to create induced pluripotent stem cells from a cell type found in blood avoiding the need for tissue biopsy. See

First Randomised Controlled Trial to show spinal cord regeneration in dogs. See (note: study used olfactory ensheathing cells rather than derived from stem cells)

Restoration of hearing in deaf gerbils with auditory neuropathy following human embryonic stem cell-derived neurone transplant. See

Transplantation of light-sensitive photoreceptors into the eyes of visually impaired mice can restore vision. See (note: study used immature rod cells from young mice rather than derived from stem cells)

Use of adult human retinal stem cells to repair nerve cells damaged in glaucoma, partially restoring vision in rats. See

Funding and Strategic Initiatives

UK Regenerative Medicine Platform (UKRMP): This £25M investment by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), MRC, and Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) has two stages.

Stage I (£20M) has created four Hubs (Pluripotency; Engineering and exploiting the stem cell niche; Safety and Efficacy; Acellular (smart material) approaches for therapeutic delivery) to provide UK centres of expertise/knowledge with the necessary critical mass to address key translational challenges and provide new tools, protocols and resources with broad applicability that can be utilised by other UK research groups in academia and industry. A call for proposals for a final hub on “Immunomodulation” is currently advertised.

With the successful establishment of this Platform, stage II has recently launched (£5M plus funding from charity partners). This will address specific human health needs by establishing high quality, collaborative research groupings to address key challenges in translational regenerative medicine focused into particular diseases or physiological systems with therapeutic potential.

£20M injection of capital funding into regenerative medicine: (2013) to support research addressing the key translational bottlenecks identified through the Strategy for UK Regenerative Medicine. The funding complements recent strategic investments, including the UK Regenerative Medicine Platform, building on existing institutional strengths to provide or enhance national capabilities to meet the challenges identified in the UK strategy.

Human Inducible Pluripotent Stem Cell Initiative “HIPSCi”: Joiis a £13M initiative to create a catalogue of high-quality deeply genotyped and phenotyped induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS cells). The initiative will provide a knowledge-base to underpin the use of such cells in studying the effects of genes on health and disease and create a new iPS cell bank

Cell Therapy Catapult: The UK government’s Technology Strategy Board (TSB) has established a £50m Cell Therapy Catapult to provide technology, expertise and technical leadership and offer support to companies working on cell therapies, enabling the UK to reinforce its position as a world leader in the science and delivery of healthcare solutions. Access will be provided to equipment and research and development capabilities that may otherwise be out of the reach of companies in this emerging field. The Catapult will aid the rapid commercialization of the outputs of world class research in cell biology, stem cells, clinical medicine and bioengineering, and will build on strong government funding in regenerative medicine and related areas.

BHF Cardiovascular Regenerative Medicine Centres: BHF have committed £7.5M to support three centres of excellence in cardiovascular regenerative medicine aligned with the UKRMP (Oxford Centre for Mending Broken Hearts, Director: Paul Riley; BHF Centre of Regenerative Medicine, Edinburgh, Director: David Newby; BHF Centre of Research Excellence, Imperial College, Director: Michael Schneider).

International Partnerships

California-UK collaborative opportunity in translational stem cell research: disease team III: Building on an earlier successful partnership with Californian Institute for Regenerative Medicine, this call seeks to accelerate clinical proof of concept for potential therapies based on stem cell research by supporting the necessary research and regulatory activities required to complete early clinical testing.

UK-China Stem Cell Research Collaboration: This forthcoming call for proposals will provide matched funding from the MRC and NSFC for significant 3 year research projects. The scheme will be focused on basic and preclinical research of relevance to the longer term development of stem cell based therapies for human disease and disorders and follows from a successful partnership development programme launched in 2012 to build collaborative research links between UK and Chinese labs.

Translational Research Funding

MRC/TSB Biomedical Catalyst: Regenerative Medicine Research Programme: The Biomedical Catalyst has two funding streams relating to stem cell research; The Regenerative Medicine Research Committee provides funding for projects in the early translational space (eg differentiation of neurones from hESCs for deafness – see press release above) . In the past 5 years the program has awarded £32m, encompassing projects to provide xeno-free clinical grade hESC lines and four phase 1 trials of autologous stem cell therapies. The Major Awards Committee (with MRC supporting academic led proposals and TSB supporting industry led research) considers later stage translational projects (eg “Regenvox” – supporting the workup of the first clinical trials of a laryngeal replacement incorporating stem cells in man)

STEMBANCC: Public private partnership in iPSC. Funded under EU Innovative Medicines Initiative (IMI), STEMBANCC aims to generate and characterise high quality human iPS cell lines to study a range of chronic diseases (e.g. diabetes and dementia) and test for drug efficacy and safety.

Changes to stem cell related policies

No changes in 2012/2013.

For further information, see the UK Code of Practice for the Use of Human Stem Cell Lines, which lays out the governance and regulatory structures in the UK for human stem cell research and for the operation of the UK Stem Cell Bank, as well as providing guidance on best practice.

Other Relevant Developments Affecting UK Stem Cell Research

European Court of Justice Ruling on patenting of hESC linesThis 2011 ruling bans the patenting of inventions involving hESCs and follows a challenge by Greenpeace to a patent filed by German scientist Professor Oliver Brüstle in 1997 to protect a line of cells he developed to treat nervous system defects. The ruling applies only to the patentability of hESC lines and associated processes, and will have no immediate impact on the regulatory framework in the UK. MRC and other UK funders have reaffirmed their commitment to continue to support hESC research.

To note, EU Horizon 2020 funding programme will also retain the same policies relating to support for hESC research as Framework Programme 7 (FP7; no change).

MRC Contact point: 

Dr Paul Colville-Nash, Programme Manager for Stem Cells and Developmental Biology (

Other Major Funders of Stem Cell Research in the UK

  • Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC)
  • Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC)
  • Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC)
  • Technology Strategy Board (TSB)
  • Wellcome Trust
  • Cancer Research UK
  • British Heart Foundation


Previous Member Update

Update January 2012