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Introducing the Chair and Vice-Chair of our Research Review Committee

23 January 2024

Last year, we set up an independent Research Review Committee (RRC) to review the funding applications that come through our new competitive grant schemes and provide recommendations to our Board of Trustees on which projects we should fund. The committee Chair and Vice-Chair are important roles to ensure applications are reviewed fairly and rigorously, so the Foundation funds the very best research to drive forward its research strategy. We’re pleased to introduce you to Richard and Jill in this article.

Chair: Dr Richard Mead, Senior Lecturer in Translational Neuroscience at the Sheffield Institute of Translational Neuroscience (SITraN)

Richard’s research focuses on finding pathways that lead to the death of motor neurons and developing new therapies that target those pathways. He collaborates and combines expertise with colleagues at SITraN and other academic institutions, as well as biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies.

When asked about why he was looking forward to working with the Foundation, he responded “The funding stream is focussed around developing new therapeutics and strategies. As far as I am aware, it will be one of the first funding streams in the UK with this focus and that is a significant boost to MND research.”

More widely in the MND field, Richard is excited by the results of the recent tofersen trial, which has demonstrated two things, “First, that neurofilament levels may predict response to treatment in certain cases. This is something we have wanted for a long time - a biomarker that can predict treatment effects. Second, tofersen has shown that if you target the right mechanism, you can really impact the disease. I think this means we have to be more ambitious in our goals for new therapies.”

Vice-Chair: Dr Jill Richardson, Head of UK Neuroscience, Executive Director at MSD

Jill is Executive Director and Head of Neuroscience Biology at MSD’s London Discovery Centre. She leads a portfolio of innovative drug discovery programmes with the aim of developing novel, differentiated medicines for the treatment of diseases of high unmet need, with a focus on neurodegenerative diseases, including MND. Her extensive pharmaceutical industry experience places her in an excellent position to help us drive forward our Research Strategy. In addition, she has previously served on grant boards at Alzheimer’s Research UK, Drug Discovery Institute, Senate of the German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases and Wellcome Trust - valuable experience that is hugely beneficial to our RRC.

When asked why she is looking forward to working with the Foundation, she said it was our specific focus on translation. “With many research boards, the focus is on basic research and many academics on these boards might argue that we should not ask too much about translational plans. However, on this committee, we are really trying to capture applications that are focused on translation of basic science through to the clinic.”

“On this committee, we are really trying to capture applications that are focused on translation of basic science through to the clinic”

Dr Jill Richardson, Research Review Committee Vice-Chair

Jill is excited by the recent progress of novel therapies in MND. She believes that “future success will rely on a deeper knowledge of the biological mechanisms underlying the disease, and using stratification with biomarkers to identify the right population for the right disease to enable the highest chance of success of therapeutic intervention”.

How the committee works

The RRC consists of 23 members, which is large for a committee of this nature. Richard explains why we decided on this approach, “Although not the norm for the charity sector, setting up a large committee was deliberate. We have a number of experts with diverse backgrounds and expertise, from pre-clinical scientists working on basic disease mechanisms to industrial scientists working on clinical drug development and people affected by MND. We have a range of experiences too, from established researchers to those earlier in their careers, as well as a broad range of geographies, with representation from the UK, Europe, USA and Australia. Where we need additional expertise, we engage external reviewers on a project-by-project basis”.

“At least 3 scientific members of our RRC and one member affected by MND provide detailed written reviews of each application, and one reviewer leads the discussion at our in-person meeting, followed by a discussion in which the whole committee is involved - we are looking for a robust discussion! We finish with scoring and ranking each application and then a decision on which applications to recommend for funding is made”.

Jill explains that, “By involving people affected by MND in the review process, we reinforce the focus and sense of urgency to develop therapeutics that can change the course of this devastating disease”. Richard adds that they “have a key role to represent the patient population but also provide a link to the Foundation and their supporters”.

What are the roles of the Chair and Vice-Chair?

As the Chair, Richard is fundamental in ensuring we have the right mix of expertise on the RRC. During the review process, he matches reviewers on the committee to the applications, helps us to manage conflicts of interest, and resolves any differences of opinion around reviews. Richard also chairs the meetings of the committee and helps reviewers achieve a consensus. Important to Richard, is to ensure that “all applicants receive very good quality feedback on their applications, whether successful or not, to help improve project design and shape future applications”.

As Vice-Chair of the committee, Jill will deputize in the event of Richard’s absence, including if Richard has any conflicts of interest with any of the applicants, ensuring that funding decisions remain fair, objective and transparent. Our Conflicts of Interest policy, to which all members of our committee must agree on an annual basis, can be found on our website.

The Foundation’s research team works closely with Richard and Jill to ensure they have everything they need to fulfill their roles on the committee.

What the committee is looking for in applications

“First and foremost, the committee is looking for excellent science and excellent ideas that are well thought out with realistic proposals for further research and development”.

  Dr Richard Mead, Research Review Committee Chair

Richard highlights that, “We are keen to see that researchers actually understand the risks inherent in their research and have solid plans for mitigation. A good understanding of the translational research pathway is also essential so project teams with a good mix of experience and skills is helpful. Applicants should also understand how a new therapy may be taken forward, so a pathway to commercialisation should be considered”.

The Foundation is extremely grateful to have Richard and Jill in such key roles on our Review Committee and making important contributions to driving forward the Foundation’s research strategy. To find out about the other members of our RRC and how it works, visit our How We Invest in Research page.

Introducing the Chair and Vice-Chair of our Research Review Committee
Introducing the Chair and Vice-Chair of our Research Review Committee

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