Our Fellowship of the UK's leading experts select and assess key biomedical research and health topics.
Explore the tabs below or find our work on other areas via the menu (including animals in research, COVID-19 policy, biomedical and health careers, funding and regulation, and work on international health topics such as climate change and multimorbidity). Visit our policy projects directory for a full list.
“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
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 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 rely on patient data for their development or use. In 2018, we worked with patients and the public to create principles to help navigate designing and regulating future data-driven health technologies.
- Artificial intelligence in research and healthcare (2018-present). We continue to explore 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.
Read more on our dedicated mental health policy page.
12,000 people in the UK and 700,000 people worldwide are currently dying every year due to antimicrobial-resistant infections. If no action is taken, it has been predicted that by 2050 the number of deaths related to antimicrobial resistance (AMR) will increase to 10 million people a year globally.
As well as impacting our ability to treat common infections, the increasing incidence of antimicrobial resistance threatens to make even routine major surgeries and other medical practices, including chemotherapy, a serious risk. AMR is therefore a key priority for researchers and policymakers.
In late 2021 we reviewed the innovations required to tackle AMR in a workshop with the Royal Society on expanding the antimicrobial toolkit. We were then very pleased to see in early 2022 that two new antibiotics will be made available under the pioneering subscription model recommended in our report. We have also been looking at how we can learn from COVID-19, hosting a workshop with the Department of Health and Social Care and the National Institute for Health and Care Research on: ‘Antimicrobial resistance research: learning lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic’.
We have also been working since 2017 on a series of conferences and visiting professorships to build stronger AMR research links between the UK and India, enabled by funding from The Yusuf and Farida Hamied Foundation.
Find out more about our ongoing work on the major health challenges of AMR on our dedicated AMR page.
In the UK, 51% of the population and 47% of the workforce are women, yet health systems have systematically deprioritised women’s health issues.
- 1 in 10 women worldwide will be affected by miscarriage, and many will never know why.
- In a study of 3000+ women, two in five reported report persistent incontinence 12 years after giving birth.
- 1 in 5 women in the UK sees five or more different midwives during pregnancy.
- Conditions such as endometriosis currently take in the UK on average 8 years to be correctly diagnosed.
- A woman is 50% more likely to receive the wrong initial diagnosis for a heart attack.
- Although Black women are the group most likely to experience a mental health disorder, they are half as likely as white women to receive treatment.
- Over two thirds of women needing personal protective equipment at work reported not having female-shaped or sized personal protective equipment available.
- Women from the richest parts of England live on average 7 years longer than women from the poorest.
We are working to try and change this.
In 2021 we submitted evidence to the Department of Health and Social Care ahead of their development of the UK's first women's health strategy. In 2022 we released a new report on women's health from our symposium with the Royal Society, exploring women's sexual health, the menopause, menstrual health, femtech, endometriosis and more. Find out more and download the full report.
We also work to directly support women in science through our own career support programmes. Our SUSTAIN programme for women in research takes women in their first independent positions and gives them a year of support within a cohort of peers. In an independent evaluation, 9 in 10 women said SUSTAIN “helped them thrive” as independent researchers. Find out more and explore our wider work on equity, diversity and inclusion.
We have also worked with the African Academy of Sciences to host a workshop on maternal and newborn survival in sub-Saharan Africa. Despite Africa having only 13% of the world’s population, it carries more than half the burden of maternal and newborn deaths, with an African woman facing a 1 in 39 chance of dying from complications in pregnancy or childbirth. Our joint workshop brought together approximately 65 scientists, clinicians, policymakers and funders from 15 countries across sub-Saharan Africa to discuss key research gaps.