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Payback Framework

In the first Irish study of its kind, the Health Research Board (HRB) has assessed the cumulative outcomes of a selection of HRB funded research projects over time to demonstrate the impact of HRB funding is having on people's health and the Irish economy. Using a pioneering approach called the "Payback Framework", the HRB worked with the Health Economics Research Group in Brunel University and RAND Europe to identify and assess these benefits. The findings are published in a report entitled, Health Research-Making an impact: the economic and social benefits of HR-funded research, which can be downloaded below.

Top line results show that the eight projects, which received a combined total of €1.5 million HRB funding more than 10 years ago, have had a direct impact or cumulative effect that has contributed significantly to health and economic benefits in Ireland and internationally including:-

  • Withdrawal of a harmful arthritis drug (Vioxx) from the market
  • Foundation of three spin-off companies (Opsona Therapeutics, Biontrack, Genset) Opsona has attracted more than €5 million from private financiers and employs 20 people.
  • Treatment of cardiac disease
  • Four potential drug treatments are at different stages of development and it is hoped that these will lead to effective treatment for Arthritis, retinitis pigmentosa, Alzheimer's and Huntington's disease in the coming years
  • Industry collaboration with companies like Wyeth Pharmaceuticals, Bristol-Myers-Squibb and Unilever & Wrigley
  • Improving dose regimes for pain treatment
  • Development of a successful early intervention programme for people suffering from psychosis.
  • Improvements in dental practice and monitoring of dental health in Irish children

Wider economic impacts of the eight case studies examined include:-

  • Maintaining industry (including Wyeth) investment in Ireland and Irish research
  • Leveraging additional funding (from various national and international sources)
  • Attracting researchers to remain or return to Ireland -  adding to our knowledge base
  • Building Ireland's reputation for research, which is vital in an increasingly competitive global market for R&D and technological innovation.


Clinical Pharmacology research conducted at University College Dublin explored the role of drugs used to treat pain (e.g. Aspirin) and arthritis (e.g. Vioxx). The research contributed to a range of impacts and health gains for patients, including an improved dosing regime for pain treatment through better understanding of the underlying mechanisms and withdrawal of drugs from the market to treat arthritis due to potentially serious side effects identified by the research team. The research has led to collaboration with a number of pharmaceutical companies for drug development and led to the formation of spin-off companies like Genset and Biontrack) representing a significant economic benefit.

Principal Investigator: Prof Des Fitzgerald


Immunology research at Trinity College Dublin focused on the molecular basis of inflammation led to a groundbreaking scientific discovery of a novel immune system regulator (MAL) identified as a potential vaccine candidate for diseases such as malaria, potentially saving millions of lives annually around the world. The project led to the formation of a spin-off company, Opsona Therapeutics. The company now employs 20 people and has attracted venture capital of €5.25m from US sources. The company has also entered into a collaboration with Wyeth Pharmaceuticals and is planning Phase 1 clinical trials with a novel anti-inflammatory compound in 2009.

Principal Investigator: Prof Luke O'Neill


Health services research conducted at the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland looked at the time to treatment for acute myocardial infarction (heart attack). The findings contributed to the first cardiac strategy, Building Healthier Hearts, and to subsequent service improvements that have reduced mortality from this disease in Ireland, with a drop of nearly 4,000 deaths per annum. This grant was an important catalyst for the development of health services research in Ireland.

Principal Investigator: Prof Hannah McGee


Primary Care research conducted at NUI, Galway led to further research which has contributed to the establishment of the 'HeartWatch' health programme. Over two years this programme is estimated to have prolonged the life of around 80 individuals leading to a gain of over 500 life years. It has also lead to a reduction in the three main risk factors for cardiovascular disease (smoking, cholesterol and blood pressure).

Principal Investigator: Prof Andrew Murphy


Psychiatry/mental health research at St John of Gods, HSE and UCD has led to the establishment of a pilot clinical service in south east Dublin and Wicklow, called DETECT which aims to reduce delays in accessing treatment and provide comprehensive interventions to aid recovery.  This early intervention approach is shown to lead to improved health outcomes and significant savings on later treatment, representing a considerable economic benefit.

Principal Investigator: Prof Eadbhard Ó Callaghan


Oral health services research in dentistry at University College Cork has led to development of an assay to test whether children are brushing their teeth, which will allow targeted interventions to improve dental hygiene. This should reduce the need for later dental treatment. This fuelled further research that looked at the dental health system in Ireland which has led to more effective dental practice both country-wide and at the practice level through development of guidelines. On the commercial side, the work has led to industry collaboration with Wrigley and Unilever, looking at the relationship between saliva and dental health.

Principal Investigator: Dr Helen Whelton


Neurosciences research at Trinity College Dublin which involved an investigation into the effect of diet on memory has contributed to a lot of additional research on the beneficial effects of unsaturated fatty acids on health, which is now public knowledge. Related research by the Principal Investigator into the neurobiology of ageing is leading to a better understanding of how to maintain cognitive activity into old age that may allow the Irish economy to benefit from a future 'grey workforce'. Furthermore, through collaboration with two industrial partners, the research is contributing to the development of two drugs for clinical trials - one drug for age-related memory impairments is entering Phase 2 trials, while another for Huntington's disease is entering final stage Phase 3 trials and is close to market approval.

Principal Investigator: Prof Marina Lynch


Research into the genetics of eye disease at Trinity College Dublin explored methods to prevent and treat degenerative eye disease, or retinopathies, for example retinitis pigmentosa (RP) and age-related macular degeneration (AMD). The team is currently developing exciting new avenues of therapeutic intervention in animal systems with international collaborators and work is in place to support rationale for Phase 1 human trials. The Principal Investigator has established a campus company to facilitate the development towards clinical trials. Given the prevalence of debilitating visual conditions such as AMD and RP worldwide, any breakthrough would have major potential health benefits for patients.

Principal Investigator: Dr Pete Humphries



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