World-class medical research highlighted in report

Health news

World-class medical research from the University of Leeds into a rare blood disorder has been highlighted in a key report out today (Thursday, 29 January).

'The Health of the Nation: The impact of UK medical schools’ research' report, published by the Medical Schools Council, features the Leeds projects as an example of research which has had a significant impact on societal health.

In the project, researchers from the School of Medicine at the University of Leeds, led by Professor Peter Hillmen, identified the potential of the drug eculizumab to treat paroxysmal nocturnal haemoglobinuria (PNH), a rare acquired blood disorder, in which the bone marrow cannot compensate for a massive loss of red blood cells.

It took more than two years for researchers at Leeds to convince Alexion Pharmaceuticals, the company which had developed the drug, to permit them to perform trials in PNH. Alexion’s reluctance was that the low numbers of patients with PNH would make drug development unviable. However, studies were approved, performed in the UK and showed that eculizumab immediately reverses the symptoms and complications of PNH, meaning that patients were able to return to work and stop supportive therapies, such as blood transfusions and taking painkillers.

Eculizumab has transformed the treatment of PNH with major economic impacts. The Leeds group recently published data showing that the survival of patients with PNH receiving eculizumab is comparable with the normal population and that patients have a normal quality of life.

Professor Hillmen said: “The eculizumab trial and subsequent results made life significantly better for thousands of sufferers of PNH worldwide.

“One of the main reasons we go into medical research is to improve people’s lives and this is one example of where research has dramatically succeeded in doing this.”

Professor Paul Stewart, Dean of the Faculty of Medicine and Health at the University of Leeds, sat on the oversight panel for the report. He said: “This shows what an impact research which goes on within our School of Medicine can have.

“Professor Hillmen’s project is a prime example of the innovation and perseverance which are hallmarks of our work at Leeds.”

The examples of research in the report cover the spectrum from clinical practice to global health and the economy. They are taken from medical schools’ submissions to the Research Excellence Framework (REF) 2014, which reported its results last month.

Those results showed that, of the examples of research submitted across all subjects, the impact of clinical medicine is unmatched in the percentage of its research which achieved the highest 4* grade rating and in its overall ‘research power’. This is determined by multiplying average grading by the number of staff whose work was included.

Professor Iain Cameron, Chair of the Medical Schools Council, said: “The life sciences sector is the UK’s third largest contributor to economic growth with a turnover of more than £50 billion. It is made up of many different kinds of organisation but the expertise that drives the sector comes from universities, the researchers who go on to work in companies large and small, and of course in the crucial work being done in the universities themselves.

“Medical schools play a key role here. In the UK we have the best academic institutions working with the best research companies and supported by an unrivalled research infrastructure from basic discovery to clinical impact, funded by the Medical Research Council, the National Institute for Health Research, the Wellcome Trust and others in the medical charities sector. It’s crucial for the nation’s health and wealth.”

Further information

For more information on the Leeds project or a copy of the report, contact Ben Jones in the University of Leeds press office on 0113 343 8059 or email