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95 years of research for the MRC

14 April 2014

The MRC Clinical Trials Unit at UCL (MRC CTU) celebrated the work of three of its most eminent scientists with a one-day seminar on 08 April. Professors Abdel Babiker, Andrew Nunn and Patrick Royston have between them been funded by the MRC for a total of 95 years, with Andrew Nunn out in the lead with a staggering 48 years. The day was made up of scientific presentations from collaborators with whom the three have worked closely.

Abdel Babiker, Professor of Epidemiology and Medical Statistics, joined the MRC HIV Clinical Trials Centre in 1990. Since then he has led the design and analysis of trials in the treatment and prevention of HIV infection. Prof Tim Peto highlighted Ab’s contribution to the early years of international HIV trials, particularly his skill in dealing with the controversy raised by the negative results of the CONCORDE trial. Prof Diana Gibb described his role in ensuring that trials in HIV-infected children were rigorously designed and executed, and his contribution to improving management of acutely sick children in Africa. Prof Jonathan Weber summarised Ab’s role in the 15 years of successful collaboration with Imperial College. Finally Prof Jim Neaton illustrated Ab’s "deep understanding [and] perspective" through 15 years as an "INSIGHT-ful" statistician with the International Network for Strategic Initiatives in Global HIV Trials (INSIGHT).

The statistician and epidemiologist, Andrew Nunn, has played a key role in studies that have transformed our understanding of tuberculosis and HIV. Prof Janet Darbyshire summarised his critical role in the series of trials undertaken by the MRC in the 1970s and 1980s that resulted in the highly effective regimen that remains the mainstay of tuberculosis treatment today. Andrew’s more recent work to further improve and shorten the treatment of tuberculosis was highlighted by Dr Andy Vernon. Andrew’s pioneering work in the early days of the HIV epidemic while working in Uganda were described by his colleagues, Prof Peter Smith and Dr Jane Kengeya-Kayondo. His important contribution to clinical research in other diseases was illustrated by Prof Hywel Williams who showcased Andrew’s activities supporting research networks and development of clinical trials expertise in dermatology.

Patrick Royston is a Professor of Statistics who has made remarkable contributions to several areas of biostatistics. Prof Willi Sauerbrei discussed Patrick’s work on the use of fractional polynomials for modelling continuous variables. Prof Paul Lambert talked about his contribution to survival analysis, and Dr Ian White discussed Patrick’s work on multiple imputation modelling, which is used in statistical analysis to help deal with missing data. Prof Doug Altman explored the importance of validating multivariable prediction models, which is an area Patrick has also been influential in. All the contributors highlighted Patrick’s commitment to facilitating the uptake of the techniques he has developed through creating user-friendly software.

Throughout the session, Patrick, Andrew and Abdel’s generosity in collaboration and teaching, leadership and statistical insight were illustrated repeatedly.