3.1.3 Healthy nation: Transforming healthcare

Quality of life, productivity and the resilience of communities all depend on people's mental and physical wellbeing. Our research delivers the new materials, new sensors and imaging modalities, novel analytical techniques and innovation needed to improve prediction, diagnosis and treatment of disease that will deliver better quality of life and ensure higher standards of affordable healthcare. These advances also drive economic growth by bringing new products and services to market that help tackle national and global health challenges. This work is pivotal to delivering the Ageing Society Grand Challenge's mission to ensure that people can enjoy at least five extra healthy, independent years of life by 2035, while narrowing the gap between the experience of the richest and poorest.

We will work in partnership with, for example, NIHR, MRC, Cancer Research UK (CRUK), the Wellcome Trust, the British Heart Foundation and the NHS to build on initiatives such as the UK Regenerative Medicine Platform, the UK Prevention Research Partnership, Technology Touching Life and Physics of Life. As delivery partner for The Alan Turing, Rosalind Franklin and Henry Royce institutes, we will ensure the large-scale multidisciplinary effort required to deliver the engineering and physical sciences research that transforms health and wellbeing. We will also encourage and support researchers at all career stages to appreciate real-world complexities and impact/translation pathways in health by promoting discipline-hopping and reinforcing the principles of responsible innovation.

To deliver this priority, EPSRC will invest in:

Next-generation digital healthcare systems: Driving forward the development of the next generation of digital systems, including artificial intelligence, machine learning, and interfaces and algorithms for data analytics, for the benefit of all aspects of health. Consideration of and research into, the risks associated with these new technologies will be an integral part of this work.

Engineering healthier environments where people live and work: Investing in built environment, infrastructure and urban systems research to build critical mass of leadership in engineering a healthier integrated care environment. Utilising a 'system of systems' approach to ensure overall wellbeing is improved, and illness prevented, for individuals and populations.

Future affordable healthcare solutions: Leading the discovery, development and deployment of cutting edge, affordable technologies, ranging from medical diagnostics/imaging systems to targeted therapeutics, to realise a truly cost-effective healthcare system which is available to all. 

Technologies to improve healthcare treatment: Investing in novel chemical and physical approaches to improve drug delivery to increase the effectiveness and reduce the costs of existing treatments. This will allow the development of affordable and safe novel therapeutic agents into medicines which deliver the right concentration of drug, for the right duration to the right tissue.

Long-term ambitions

We will work across UKRI and with other industry, public sector and charity partners to generate effective solutions to current, emerging and future health challenges and to improve wellbeing across society. Our long-term aspiration is to ensure that:

  • the frontiers of knowledge and understanding in every field of engineering and physical sciences research have been extended to generate effective solutions to current, emerging and future health challenges and to improve wellbeing across society. Success will be reflected by a growth in the number of EPSRC researchers working with healthcare partners, especially in the medical and clinical sciences, and with clinicians, patients and businesses to deliver effective healthcare, wellbeing and social-care solutions
  • improvements in healthcare based on quantitative understanding rooted in and inspired by the availability of health data, systems thinking and new tools/technologies have been delivered. Success will be reflected in the extent to which key treatments and policy interventions draw on tools and techniques developed through our investments

Near-term actions

  • address the challenge of earlier cancer detection and improved patient outcomes through a series of sandpits (a facilitated peer review process) for up to £1 million, delivered with CRUK and aiming to generate new multidisciplinary collaborations
  • deliver a £1 million call to identify research collaborations addressing prevention of non-communicable diseases, under the MRC-led UK Prevention Research Partnership
  • build on learning from the Healthcare Impact Partnerships to scope out a further £20 million call co-branded with NIHR. Areas currently being discussed include applications of AI and machine learning in application to software and hardware solutions for: fast stroke diagnosis; analysis of breast screening and chest X-ray data; interpretation of multi-morbidity data
  • with MRC, deliver a digital healthcare study mapping current and future required UK capabilities, emerging areas and stakeholder priorities to provide a clear forward investment plan
  • work with MRC and NIHR to explore future research opportunities on the body-technology interface, building on our expertise in sensors, device  miniaturisation, remote data collection and data analysis, and applying it in healthcare
  • launch a £25 million call on Transformative Healthcare for 2050, aiming to transform community health and care by exploiting opportunities at the frontiers of physical intervention
  • support the healthcare community in using Tier 1 and 2 High Performance Computing (HPC) to bring the power of sophisticated modelling to healthcare. Launch a call for multidisciplinary Collaborative Computational Projects in 2019-20 for funding in 2020-21 (up to £5 million depending on available budgets)
  • deliver with colleagues across UKRI (lead Council in bold): Strategic Priorities Fund: Physics of Life (EPSRC, MRC, BBSRC: £31.2 million). Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund (all with IUK): Medicine Manufacturing (MRC, EPSRC, BBSRC: £188 million); and From Data to Early Diagnostics and Precision Medicine (MRC, BBSRC, EPSRC: £210 million).

Case study

A spin-out solution for diabetes

Diabetes costs the NHS around £10 billion per year, with 3.7 million people in the UK diagnosed with the disease. With BBSRC, we have funded basic multidisciplinary biological chemistry that will lead to better treatment and control for people living with diabetes. For example, cutting-edge research at the University of Bristol was taken forward with IUK funding and led to the creation of spin-out Ziylo, which developed innovative glucose-binding molecules that can be used in medical devices and in therapeutics such as glucose-responsive insulins. Pharma giant Novo Nordisk recognised the potential and acquired Ziylo’s innovative technology platform for a record deal that exceeds US$800 million.