New testing facility targets Liverpool’s health challenges

A specialist unit has opened at the new Royal Liverpool University Hospital which will perform clinical trials aimed at tackling some of the region’s most common diseases. 

The opening of the new Liverpool Clinical Research Facility (CRF) unit follows a £5.3m funding award from the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR).  

A significant proportion of the local population will benefit from the advanced testing at the CRF, as it will explore new treatments and vaccines for a range of diseases prevalent in Liverpool’s communities. This includes research into cancer and heart disease as well as neurology and neurodegenerative conditions, such as Alzheimer’s, dementia, Parkinson’s and Huntington’s disease.  

The old Royal Liverpool University Hospital had previously housed the CRF since 2009, where researchers have been investigating high priority health problems for the Liverpool area. Moving to the state-of-the-art Royal Liverpool University Hospital, which was opened in October 2022, will significantly enhance the Liverpool CRF’s capabilities. 

Key benefits of the new site include increasing the number of beds from 12 to 26 and being one of only two NHS units in England that holds M accreditation, an industry standard benchmark for medical trials.  

The unit has been designed with the team’s research needs in mind and is laid out in a bespoke manner to facilitate medical trials, such as having open bed bays and areas for volunteers to relax. This design means the unit can conduct phase one human trials, which is the first step in testing a new treatment in humans.  

To speed up research, sample handling labs and specialist facilities for procedures including bronchoscopies have been created onsite. Operating in alignment with one of the region’s major NHS hospitals means that the CRF has easy access to relevant experts and medical support without adding to NHS workloads and waiting lists.  

The NIHR Liverpool CRF has worked closely alongside Liverpool University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (LUFHT), which runs the Royal Liverpool University Hospital, since it was first hosted by the Trust. Its achievements in this time have seen it awarded the funding to set up a new site as well as establish partnerships with key regional organisations such as the Infection Innovation Consortium (iiCON), The Clatterbridge Cancer Centre (CCC) NHS Foundation Trust, and the Liverpool Heart and Chest Hospital NHS Foundation Trust. 

iiCON acts as a catalyst for the CRF to filter trials in the infection space. Established in 2020, iiCON is a world leading centre for infection innovation and R&D based at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, which works in partnership with Liverpool University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (LUHFT). 

The first phase one clinical trial is currently underway at the new facility in partnership with iiCON and Alderley Park based Infex Therapeutics. This trial will progress a novel therapeutic treatment to treat dangerous multi-drug resistant infections into clinical trials over the next 12 months as part of a programme supported by iiCON. The RESP-X programme targets serious recurrent respiratory infections in patients with damaged lung functions. 

Richard Fitzgerald, Consultant in Clinical Pharmacology and Therapeutics and Director of the CRF at Liverpool University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, said:The research benefits of the new NIHR Liverpool CRF facility will significantly boost our efforts in tackling a range of local healthcare challenges. Thanks to this work taking place within the Royal Liverpool Hospital, one of the region’s major healthcare hubs, many patients will be able to access some of the most advanced medicines and therapies available. 

“Right now, teams are already hard at work on ground-breaking studies into a number of diseases. This activity is a great testament to the world-class medical research taking place in Liverpool and I’m excited to see what advances are going to be made thanks to our new facility.”  

To increase the pipeline of new trials, iiCON is planning to expand its collaboration with LUFHT and the NIHR Liverpool CRF moving forwards.  

Janet Hemingway, iiCON Director, said: “The Liverpool CRF has been at the cutting edge of innovative drug discovery for some time and its site at the new Royal Liverpool Hospital will supercharge the capabilities of this exceptionally talented team.  

“The work that’s underway on Infex’s RESP-X programme illustrates the fantastic collaborations our region is capable of. Bringing together advanced researchers with leading industry specialists and clinical experts is at the heart of iiCON’s mission, as it is vital to delivering the next generation of treatments for infectious diseases.” 

The Liverpool CRF at LUHFT played a key role during the COVID-19 pandemic, by working in partnership with the University of Liverpool and Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine to test and develop vital vaccines and medicines.