The Funding Landscape

Understanding where your project is in the technology development pathway and how you move through the funding landscape that supports it.

EPSRC supports fundamental and applied research at the earliest stages in the development of any new technology. EPSRC will support research into new technologies until appropriate, early stage, proof of concept studies have been undertaken, to demonstrate how a set of scientific principles can be used to address a healthcare challenge. Beyond this point it is no longer appropriate for EPSRC to support the development of technologies. Significant further investment will be required to develop technologies emerging from EPSRC-funded research into products and services that are ready to be evaluated in formal safety and efficacy studies and subsequently made available to patients. Only those technologies with the strongest case for supporting them will be successful in attracting investment at each successive stage.

The development pathway for new technologies is frequently described in terms of technology readiness levels (TRLs), which give a common reference point when considering the level of development a given technology has achieved. The journey of any given technology through the technology development pathway is rarely a simple linear progression, there are likely to be frequent forks in the path and feedback loops where activities generate new avenues of research, invention and iteration, or where components of systems at higher readiness levels in their own right, are considered to be at a lower level when integrated into a new system.

 

There are a multitude of other funders that work across the TRL scale to fund work in different scientific remits or at later stages of development. Collectively these organisations form a diverse, and somewhat complex, funding landscape, within which there is funding available to support a journey from fundamental, curiosity-led research all the way through to commercial products. That journey is not easy. The journey, by its nature is broken up into cycles of investment, that support progress through the landscape and “up” the TRL scale. At each successive funding stage the expectations for the technology become higher and the appetite for risk gets lower. In order to be successful at each successive investment stage, your technology must have been sufficiently de-risked during the previous period of research/development to present a compelling case for further support.

 

 

In order to move smoothly through the landscape, you need to understand the expectations of next stage funders and consider how you will work towards meeting those expectations during your current or proposed project. Each of these funding bodies will have different requirements and it is highly advisable to engage with them as early as possible to gain a better understanding of what qualities successful proposals commonly feature. You can’t know the exact path your technology will take at the outset of your project, but you can suggest what some of the likely paths may be and how you will establish which of these to pursue as your project progresses. Some of the principal sources of translational funding for healthcare technologies are described below.

 

Sources of Translational Funding

EPSRC Impact Acceleration Accounts

(Contact your institution’s research office)

 

Institutional funding scheme that provides small scale flexible support for impact activities arising from previously funded EPSRC awards. Can be used to support exploratory translational activities including early proof of concept studies. This scheme is administered centrally within organisations, not all institutions will have access to this source of funding.

NIHR - Invention 4 Innovation

 

Project based support for Clinical, Academic or Business-led projects Supports projects to develop from experimental proof of concept through to early stage clinical trials. Can be academic, clinical or business led but must involve an NHS partner. Does not support animal studies.

MRC Biomedical Catalyst – Confidence in Concept

Institutional funding scheme that provides small scale flexible funding to support preliminary translational work, including demonstrating early proof of concept for new technologies. This scheme is administered centrally within organisations, not all institutions will have access to this source of funding.

MRC Biomedical Catalyst – Developmental Pathway Funding Scheme

 

Project based support for academic-led translational projects where early stage proof of concept has already been demonstrated. Can be used to support preclinical research and development through to early stage clinical trials.

 

Innovate UK Biomedical Catalyst – Feasibility

Small scale project based support for business-led translational projects to undertake exploratory translational work, including  demonstrating early proof of concept for new technologies.

Innovate UK Biomedical Catalyst – Early/Primer Stage

Project based support for business-led translational projects. Can be used to support initial proof of concept, preclinical research and development through to clinically ready prototype. Can not be used to support clinical trials.

Innovate UK Biomedical Catalyst – Late Stage

Project based support for business-led translational projects where early stage proof of concept has already been demonstrated. Can be used to support preclinical research and development through to early clinical trials.

SBRI Healthcare

Project based support for business-led translational projects. Projects run over two stages, with an initial feasibility stage which can be used for early stage exploratory work, followed by a more substantial follow up phase.

Wellcome Innovations

The Wellcome Innovations team offer flexible support to support the development of healthcare technologies at a wide range of development stages.

Cancer Research UK (CRUK)

Cancer Research UK provide support for projects addressing cardiovascular health challenges via a broad variety of mechanisms.

British Heart Foundation (BHF)

The British heart foundation provide support for projects addressing cardiovascular health challenges via a broad variety of mechanisms.

 

Questions to Consider

  • What stage of development is your technology at?
  • Where do you hope to progress your technology to during your project? What’s a successful outcome
  • If your project is successful who is the most appropriate funder to support the next stage of development?
    • If there’s more than one, how will you decide which to target and when?
  • What qualities do high quality applications to relevant next stage funders feature?
  • Will your project deliver all the evidence and prior planning required to produce a high quality application for next stage funding?

 

For Further Information

  1. Office for Life Sciences – A guide to navigating the innovation pathway in England: This UK government guide offers an excellent overview of the downstream landscape with a particular focus on developing products for the NHS.
  2. Biomedical Technology Readiness Level Scale (Page 127 onwards): Provides further detail on technology readiness levels and particularly how these apply to a healthcare context, albeit heavily focused on the US context.
  3. NIHR Research Design Service: The Research Design Service supports researchers to develop and design high quality research proposals for submission to NIHR funding programmes and other open, national, peer reviewed funding competitions for applied health or social care research.

 

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