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The University of Southampton

University of Southampton launches Wessex Academic Health Science Centre COVID-19 response

Published: 1 April 2020
Wessex Academic Health Sciences Centre is the ideal vehicle for structuring our research response.

In direct response to the escalating need to deliver the most impactful and immediate research in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the University of Southampton and University Hospital Southampton NHS Trust have joined with NHS, university and industry partners to launch a new Wessex Academic Health Sciences Centre.

The Centre, under the direction of Southampton Professor Diana Eccles, is established to accelerate and grow research-based innovations within the NHS through coordinated actions to deliver solutions from all disciplines to improve health and social care.

“The Wessex Academic Health Sciences Centre is the ideal vehicle for structuring our research response to the pandemic,” said Professor Eccles, the University’s Dean of Medicine and Professor of Cancer Genetics with a successful track-record, as Principal Investigator, on a number of clinical studies in cancer genetics and prevention of disease.

 “Over the past few days, the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated to the point of the most stringent restrictions on population movements, as the threat to lives, the NHS and our way of life has escalated,” Professor Eccles continued. “It has been inspiring to see the response from our innovative university colleagues and NHS partners, who are rising to the challenge in many ways and on many fronts but to deliver the most impactful research and ensure best use of limited resources, there is a clear need for local and regional coordination in line with national prioritisation by the National Institute of Health Research (NIHR) and other funders.”

A key aspect of the Centre’s mission is to continually review ongoing actions locally, and later across the region, to ensure teams form, identifying common goals/capabilities, and channelling resources to support and accelerate COVID-19 research.

Working under the umbrella of the Wessex Academic Health Sciences Network (encompassing Hampshire, Dorset and South Wiltshire), the Centre will be the ‘switchgear’ for links with industry, SMEs and with the National Institute for Health Research to accelerate research into innovation. The University of Southampton’s Institute for Life Sciences (IfLS) will support the Centre’s operational activities.

“In these trying times the IfLS staff and many members have risen to the challenge of helping our colleagues in the NHS and in front-line research,” said Professor Peter Smith, Director of the IfLS. “Here, and elsewhere across our Campuses, this really is a case when the University can proudly say we are making a difference.”

Christine McGrath, University Hospital Southampton Director of Research & Development, commented “This centre allows us to better combine our expertise with that of our university and industry partners in finding better ways to diagnose, treat and prevent COVID-19 for patients across the NHS. As the largest teaching university hospital on the South Coast we bring to the initiative investigators across health areas, a professional research workforce and significant National Institute of Health Research (NIHR) facilities and expertise.”

To achieve its aims, the Centre will focus on four key activities:

Communication: every member of the Centre’s clinical and research communities will have something to offer in tackling COVID-19 and its consequences so will keep them, and all AHSC partners, informed of existing activities, opportunities, progress, achievements and outcomes;

Collation: the Centre will build and maintain a picture of all COVID-19 research and related activity, to identify links and opportunities. Initially using the University of Southampton and University Hospital Southampton as the nucleus for this, and continuing to work, over time, work with the region to build the full-scale picture;

Co-ordination: responding to an urgent need to prioritise the use of staff expertise and skills, physical resources and Research & Development infrastructure. To achieve this, the AHSC will co-ordinate, triage and formally review research activities as on behalf of the University, NHS and NIHR infrastructure stakeholders;

Clearing: The Centre will also be the portal for volunteering of time to meet research needs during the COVID-19 pandemic. The AHSC will also handle requests for support from the clinical front line, managing against capabilities.



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