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by the UCLPartners Chair and Managing Director

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought unprecedented challenges to populations and health and care systems across the world. As a result of this global emergency, the focus of our work rapidly shifted towards the end of the financial year 2019/20 to respond to the changing needs of our partners. Our unique position as an academic health science partnership has enabled us to draw on the expertise of clinicians and academics across the world to provide targeted practical support, share learning rapidly, and plan for the longer term.

As part of our COVID-19 response we’ve:

Our activity during 2019/20 preceding the pandemic, with our focus on innovation, digital and data to ensure enduring change, strengthened our position to respond quickly and effectively to this pandemic to help save lives.

During the year, we created mechanisms to enable closer working across our designations, resulting in a greater ability to draw on the clinical and academic expertise and networks that make up our partnership.

In September 2019, we were successful in our bid to host the Health Data Research Hub for Cancer. This new, national hub aims to transform how cancer data can be used to improve patient care. Since its launch, the hub has helped to increase the visibility and accessibility of cancer data across the UK and supported the development of real-time data for clinical trial matching.

October 2019 saw the launch of the Applied Research Collaboration (ARC) North Thames, a key part of the UCLPartners academic health science partnership, with a focus on applied research within five themes: mental health, multimorbidity, population health and social care, innovation and implementation, health economics and data.

The end of the financial year brought news of our re-designation as an Academic Health Science Centre (AHSC) for a further five years, following a competitive application process. Our AHSC brings together five NHS trusts and three universities to tackle the greatest health challenges affecting our population, by accelerating the translation into practice of discoveries in areas of unmet need.

Through our Academic Health Science Network, we have continued to deliver against both national programmes and regional initiatives to increase the adoption and spread of innovation and improve patient safety. Through hosting the national NHS Innovation Accelerator, as a founding partner of DigitalHealth.London and through the expanded work of the UCLPartners commercial team, we have supported innovators and businesses to introduce new technologies into the health and care system to improve patient care and generate economic growth.

The North Thames Genomic Laboratory Hub (GLH), established in October 2018, is one of UCLPartners’ designations and offers genomic testing for rare and inherited diseases and somatic genomic testing for cancer for the population of north London and parts of Essex and Hertfordshire. Since its creation, the GLH has been consolidating testing to two designated hubs, one based at Great Ormond Street for rare and inherited disease testing and the other, for somatic cancer, at the Royal Marsden Hospital. The GLH is validating testing arrangements to comply with the National Genomic Test Directory when it goes live later this year.  The GLH has also launched NTRK RNA fusion panel testing (for tumour agnostic NTRK-inhibitor, Larotrectinib) and contributes cases to the rapid exome sequencing service for very sick child on NICU or PICU thought to have an underlying genetic condition where diagnosis may change management. The GLH laboratories have maintained testing for all urgent tests during the COVID crisis and supported other laboratories to create COVID testing capacity.

This year, we undertook a review of work being carried out across UCLPartners and worked closely with our partners to understand their most pressing challenges and where we could provide most value as a partnership. As a result of this exercise, we decided to sharpen our focus on two areas: mental health and cardiovascular disease and other long-term conditions. These two areas, underpinned by digital, data and innovation, will provide the focus of our strategy going forward.

The challenges brought by the COVID-19 pandemic have made our role as an academic health science partnership even more vital. Never has it been more important to rapidly share clinical insights and learning, grow opportunities for clinical research, strengthen service evaluation and build partnerships with industry to ensure sustained and positive recovery. We look forward to working with all our partners to achieve our joint objective to improve patient care and the health of our population over the coming year.

Rt Hon Prof Lord Ajay Kakkar, Chair

Prof Mike Roberts, Managing Director