An ‘exciting’ new research centre which could transform the lives of thousands of patients has officially opened at the Royal Free Hospital (RFH).

The NIHR Royal Free Clinical Research Facility will enable patients at the RFH to participate in early-phase studies, leading to more effective treatments for a whole range of conditions, including cancer, liver disease and haemophilia.

Since the CRF opened its doors last year, hundreds of patients have already been involved in world-leading research, including in the development of two covid-19 vaccines. Trials are also underway in treatments for a rare group of conditions known as lysosmal storage disorders and a blood pressure disorder called pulmonary arterial hypertension.

The centre has benefited from funding from the Royal Free Charity and a £4.9 million grant from the National Institute for Health Research.

Clinicians, researchers, patients, staff from the Royal Free Charity and representatives from the National Institute of Health Research (NIHR) attended the official opening of the centre last night.

Tim Meyer, the CRF’s director, said: “Our purpose-built clinical space is being used to develop ground-breaking treatment for a broad range of medical conditions. We have the capacity and the capability to manage complex and intensive studies. We are now delivering on our goal to provide our local and distant patient populations the opportunity to participate in cutting edge research providing access to new treatments, devices and diagnostic tools.”

John Connolly, chief executive of the RFH, told guests: “This new facility reflects our ambitions for excellence in clinical delivery, from rare conditions to common ones. It also helps us to provide a great research education for our nurses, doctors and allied health professionals.”

Farhan Naim, Royal Free London research and development director, said: “Having the Clinical Research Facility is an important piece of the jigsaw in achieving our strategic aim to be a top-10 clinical research trust in the country. Its co-location with the Institute of Immunity and Transplantation in the Pears Building will allow us to provide a full bench to bedside research service that will benefit our patients immensely.”    

Judy Dewinter, a patient at the RFH and chair of the Royal Free Charity, said: “We were delighted to provide the seed funding to help establish the Clinical Research Facility. As a long-term patient myself with an incurable blood cancer I know how reliant I am on new and effective treatments on the occasions when I relapse. I’m so grateful for the patients who have come before me who have taken part in research. I wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for them.”  

Professor Pratima Chowdary, director of the haemophilia centre at the RFH, said: “It is no exaggeration to say research transforms lives. The CRF will provide more opportunities for research, including for our haemophilia patients, and provide training for the next generation of clinical researchers.”

Louise Knowles, who leads the NIHR Faculty and is deputy director, head of research capacity and growth at the Department of Health and Social Care, added: “It is fantastic to see the facility, hear first-hand about the research currently taking place and the ambitions for the future. This represents a real opportunity for patients and staff at the Royal Free London to benefit from the research that the NIHR CRF will support.”

(Pictured L-R: John Connolly, Louise Knowles, Professor Pratima Chowdary, Judy Dewinter and Professor Tim Meyer)