Healthcare Commission chair Sir Ian Kennedy is to oversee the process to select the organisations that will be designated academic health science centres.
Sir Ian will chair an international panel that will recommend to health secretary Alan Johnson which organisations to select.
Academic health science centres were given government backing in the next stage review in the summer.
The process will allow the government to identify the university and NHS partnerships best able to make the most of the synergies between research, education and health services to deliver better patient care.
The panel will offer a "peer review" of the bids and will identify the organisations best placed to compete alongside leading academic health science centres elsewhere in the world, such as Harvard and Johns Hopkins in the US and the Karolinska Institute in Sweden.
Applicants will need to demonstrate excellence in research, education and patient care. They will also need to present a compelling vision for their partnership, setting out how they plan to take new discoveries and promote their application in the NHS and across the world.
The centres aim to improve patient care, increasing the speed at which research is taken "from bench to bedside and back again".
They are also intended to generate economic growth through spin-offs and industry investment.
Sir Ian said: "It is hard to overstate the importance of translational research and the impact that this can have on the care of patients."