Our Fellowship of the UK's leading experts select and assess key biomedical research and health topics.
“The Academy can be relied upon as an authoritative and trusted source of independent expert comment to help navigate the complex questions that science seeks to address.” Professor Dame Sally Davies, former Chief Medical Officer
Explore the tabs below for an overview of our work, or explore other major work areas via the top menu such as animals in research, COVID-19 preparedness and response, biomedical and health careers (including NHS research, team science and research culture) funding and regulation, and work on international health threats such as climate change, antimicrobial resistance and multimorbidity. Visit our policy projects directory for a full list.
We work on the fundamentals of public health: research, evidence and trust.
While public health research has provided fundamental insights into human health, there is much we do not know. Our major 2016 report, Improving the health of the public by 2040, explored how to change our research environment to generate the evidence we will need in the future.
In 2017 we published a major report on examining how we can all best use evidence to judge the potential benefits and harms of medicines. Millions of us take medicines every day and scientific research has given us more treatments than ever before. Our report scrutinised how we can all be supported to make better judgements about the benefits and harms of medicines. Subsequently, the Medical Research Council published a Charter for their engagement with industry and the Bioindustry Association produced a best practice guide to help bioscience companies share work, both responding to our recommendations in this area.
Medical research using patient data has saved many lives, and the UK could become a world leader in data-driven health innovation thanks to the records of the NHS. Yet how to use patient data for research purposes in a way that is transparent, ethical and in line with public wishes remains hotly debated.
- The Academy first started work on the use of patient data in 2004, raising concerns about inappropriate constraints on the use of health data for research and highlighting confusing professional guidance and unnecessary bureaucracy. The resulting 2006 report ‘Personal Data For Public Good’ changed the course of the debate away from simplistic ‘consent or anonymise’ choices, and ensured that ethics committees, NHS Trusts and others reviewing research proposals considered the risks of not doing research, alongside the risks of letting the research proceed.
- In 2011 we started a four year project to influence EU Data Protection legislation – early drafts of which could have seriously hampered the use of health data for research. Engaging with decision makers and organisations in the UK and EU, we worked with partners who successfully negotiated a positive agreement in December 2015.
- Many technologies will rely on patient data for their development or use. In 2018, we worked directly with patients and the public to create principles that will help researchers and policy makers navigate designing and regulating future data-driven health technologies.
- Artificial intelligence in research and healthcare (2018-present). Through a series of events and summary reports we have explored the potential applications, and associated challenges of applying artificial intelligence approaches to research and healthcare.
- The Academy's cross-sector engagement programme also regularly address topics around data and AI include cancer early detection and diagnosis and the digital maturity of health and social care systems, while the 2018 FORUM Annual Lecture was delivered by Dr Omar Ishrak, Medtronic CEO on the topic of 'Transforming healthcare through engineering and technology'.
Mental and neurological disorders are responsible for 13% of the global burden of disease, and unipolar depressive disorder is projected to become the second leading cause of health burden by 2030.
The Academy’s activity includes the development of mental health and neuroscience research priorities as the COVID-19 pandemic emerged in the UK, and major projects on academic psychiatry, and addiction. Many other projects also consider mental health along with other health conditions such as our policy reports on Improving the health of the public by 2040 (2016) and Multimorbidity: a priority for global health research (2018).
Wherever possible, we work with a wide range of people, including those with experience of mental health issues to develop our work, such as in our project on the research priorities around the effects of COVID-19 on mental health and the brain (2020).
We also host the mental health research goals, as outlined in this blog by Professor Chris Whitty. These goals were collectively developed by funders of mental health research, academics and clinicians, and people living with mental health problems.
There’s more to research than good ideas. The research environment should bring out the best in everyone. Do your work and life feel balanced? Are your teams inclusive? Are you incentivised to do better research? These things matter, not just for individual researchers, but for the whole research system and its benefits for patients and wider society.
At the Academy we are committed to helping improve the UK’s research culture, and embedding diversity is a priority for our President. We want to ensure:
- UK research is open and accessible to everyone who wants to work in it
- A career in UK research can be healthy and fulfilling as well as successful
- The UK’s research output is of the highest quality
Achieving this requires improvements in our own processes as well as the external environment we operate in.
- We are committed to improving research reproducibility and in 2015 we produced a joint report on the challenges and opportunities for progress. As a stakeholder of the UK Reproducibility Network, we work with others to champion robust and reproducible research.
- Science is increasingly a team effort, involving many researchers joining up across disciplines and geographies. See our work to encourage team science, in particular ensuring that all researchers are recognised for their contributions as part of large teams.
- We try to improve research culture is by supporting and signing declarations, concordats or joint statements of principle on a range of issues – from research integrity to openness on animal research.
- We engage with Government strategies and initiatives which aim to improve the UK's research culture. In July 2021 we responded to the Government's People and Culture Strategy. In January 2021, we responded to a call for evidence on equity in the STEM workforce via the All Party Parliamentary Group on Diversity and Inclusion. The Academy’s response summarised our ongoing efforts to promote equity and equality in medical science, highlighted key areas which require improvement, and referenced the potential impacts of COVID-19 on equality, diversity and inclusion over the coming months and years. Download our full response on the right hand side of this page. In August 2013, the Academy responded to the House of Commons Science and Technology Select Committee’s inquiry 'Women in STEM careers'.