Innovation UK > News > Innovation UK Vol5-1 > Connecting people and technology in the HealthTech sector

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Connecting people and technology in the HealthTech sector

The HealthTech sector - covering medical devices, diagnostics and assisted living - is both a large market worth £120bn globally for industry, and a sector impacting directly on quality of life and UK wealth generation

Innovation is critical for the UK to compete in the global market, to capture niche areas for development and to ensure best patient care can be provided at best cost.

Within the medicines sector, there are around 300 biological medicines, including vaccines and blood products, on the market worldwide generating revenues of over $80bn a year. Biological medicines make up about 10% of all drugs on the market. These biological medicines range from relatively simple proteins such as insulin, for treating diabetes, to complex monoclonal antibodies such as Herceptin, which is used to treat a specific type of breast cancer, and vaccines to prevent cervical cancer caused by human papilloma virus (HPV). More than 800 million people have been helped by biological medicines.

The DOH European Collaboration Team ? Healthy Aims

The Technology Strategy Board identifies the health and medicines sector as a strategic market and sponsors the Knowledge Transfer Network (KTN) to connect all key players in the sector and to provide mechanisms to catalyse and accelerate new innovations into the marketplace. The KTN operates at a strategic level, liaising with relevant government departments and trade associations to enable a better climate for innovating in the UK, and at an operational level to support groups or individual businesses to access the knowledge and resources needed to move innovations forward.

Strategically, current topics include:

  • Ministerial Medical Technologies Strategy Group ? jointly led by Dawn Primarolo, Minister of State for Public Health, and John Jeans, Vice-President International, Life Sciences and Chairman UK, GE Healthcare. This group is addressing key issues such as SME competitiveness, NHS procurement and adoption of new technologies, regulations and industry policy.
  • The Bioscience Innovation and Growth Team (BIGT), Bioscience 2015 report ? recommendation 4 outlined a need to establish a strong bioprocessing subsector within UK bioscience. The recent 2009 review and refresh of this report has recommended that there be continued support to deliver the bioprocessing agenda original set out. The key focus areas are catalysing and connecting the UK bioprocessing community, increasing capacity in industrially relevant bioprocessing research and education, facilitating commercialisation of biological medicines and enabling UK organisations to take advantage of global collaborative opportunities in bioprocessing biological medicines.
  • National Institute for Health Research Medical Devices Clinical Research Working Group ? ensuring the UK environment for clinical investigations for medical devices is attractive to UK and overseas businesses.
  • National Innovation Centre Technology Adoption Hub ? identifying and alleviating obstacles to adoption of innovative products that provide evidence-based benefits.
  • Joint government Small Business Research Initiative (SBRI) ? the Department of Health has launched a new programme to stimulate innovation in key clinical areas, the first of which addressed hospitalacquired infections.

Health innovation is critical for the UK to compete globally

Operationally, the HT and Medicines KTN is active in the following:

  • Special Interest Groups (SIGs) ? in key clinical or issue-led topics such as advanced wound management, assistive technologies, clinical trials, orthopaedics, regenerative medicine, biopharmaceutical formulation, bioprocessing advance therapies and operational excellence. These bring interested parties together, across government, industry, academia and the clinical base, helping to identify issues and opportunities and leading to new partnerships. New SIGs are anticipated in hospital acquired infections, diagnostics/imaging, drug delivery, nanomedicine.
  • Statement of Clinical Need (SOCN) ? a key part of the innovation cycle is ensuring that technologies are developed that meet a clear clinical need. A portal established by the KTN ( helps to identify such needs, to validate these needs and to facilitate the discussions and new partnerships that can address and resolve such needs.
  • Events ? working in collaboration with other KTNs, professional institutions, trade associations and commercial organisations, an annual programme of events (physical and online) is run to ensure different parts of the community can meet and develop new areas of collaboration or make the right connections to speed up current developments.
  • Portal ? as with all KTNs, there is an active portal which enables share of information and knowledge, as well as tools to share confidential and nonconfidential documents, and to run online open and private meetings with colleagues anywhere in the world ? and Examples include a comprehensive events diary, guidelines to regulations, funding opportunities.

Access to finance ? innovation requires finance from the earliest stage to prototyping and initial manufacture and trials. The HT KTN advises on the various public grant schemes, public contracts and contacts into private venture for later-stage developments. In particular, the HT KTN supports programmes funded by the Technology Strategy Board (collaborative R&D, innovation platforms (more later)) and the National Institute for Health Research (Invention of Innovation (i4i) ? more later).


Regional collaboration ? the Yorkshire-based White Rose Health Innovation Partnership of which the HT KTN is a partner, has successfully awarded £1.1m to 32 Proof of Concept projects all of which have demonstrated new or enhanced partnerships between business, academia and the clinical base.

National collaboration ? a Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) was established between Vascutek Ltd and TWI to develop manufacturing methods for a new nitinol based endovascular aneurysm repair system.

Bioprocessing Research Industry Club (BRIC) ? the Bioprocessing Research Industry Club brings together industry and the research community to support industrially relevant research. bioProcessUK supports BBSRC and EPSRC in the management of BRIC. BRIC has invested £14m in bioprocessing research in UK universities over the last three years. In 2008, 13 research groups at 11 universities will share £4.7m. In 2007, eight research teams at seven universities shared £3.5m. In 2006, nine projects shared £5m.

Collaborative R&D ? the Technology Strategy Board?s Collaborative R&D scheme aims to stimulate innovation in the UK economy through higher levels of R&D and knowledge transfer. The KTNs have supported companies into this scheme, for example, CellCentric ? awarded £1.15m funding as part of a £2.3m collaborative programme and MediPlus ? awarded £500k funding as part of a £1m programme into an intelligent catheter.

European collaboration ? the ?26m 25-partner Healthy Aims Framework 6 programme was supported by the HT KTN and has just reached a successful conclusion after four years of extensive research into innovative microsystems medical products including cochlear, functional electrical stimulation, ambulatory measurement, intracranial pressure sensor, retina implant and glaucoma sensor ?

International collaboration ? three UK-China symposia have been held with HT KTN support, enabling businesses to gain high-level access to Chinese government, trade association and business contacts and leading already to joint-venture opportunities for innovative products. Two UK-Japan symposia have been held with bioProcessUK support; these events have showcased the UK strengths in the biological medicines sector with a view to facilitating further collaborations between the UK and Japan.

The aim of i4i is to accelerate the development of innovative products


Innovation Platforms are used to address major societal issues that are facing the UK and for which there are major opportunities for innovation and stimulation of business. Such challenges are ?owned? by the relevant government agencies, which in this case is the Department of Health. The two current challenges facing us are the ageing population and the rapid detection and diagnosis of infectious agents. Such challenges lead to opportunities with a large market potential, encouraging innovation and linking it through to procurement. In the future, a further Platform may develop on future medicines.

The KTNs work closely with the Technology Strategy Board to bring together all stakeholders to ensure clarity of the issues and needs, and the stimulation of targeted innovation to address these needs.

For more information, visit:


Launched in July 2008, i4i combines two pre-existing Department of Health (DH) product development programmes, New and Emerging Applications of Technology (NEAT) and Health Technology Devices (HTD), with additional new funding. This provides new investment to improve the identification of promising healthcare technologies and to accelerate the development of new healthcare products for the 21st century.

i4i funds translational research, extending between basic research and pre-clinical trials or health technology assessments. This part of the innovation process is an area of high technological and business risk, and the projects funded by i4i reflect this.

Activities under the umbrella of i4i include:

  • Future Product Development (FPD)
  • Pilot Healthcare Technology Co-operatives (HTCs)
  • Challenge Fund for Innovation (CFI)
  • Small Business Research Initiative (SBRI).

The aim of i4i is to accelerate the development of innovative products so that they are available for procurement by the NHS. This requires three additional activities:

  • Maintenance of close contact with the ?ideas generators? to ensure both the quantity and quality of proposals into i4i
  • Provision of support to projects across the i4i innovation space
  • Advice to projects to help with exploitation.

i4i does this by:

  • Working with HTCs, NHS innovation hubs, National Innovation Centre (NIC), Medilink UK and Health Technology Knowledge Transfer Network (HT KTN)
  • Monitoring project progress
  • Offering suitable projects additional resources;
  • Developing links with investors and other sources of market expertise.


FPD is the main funding activity of i4i and is positioned at the ?upstream? part of the innovation process ? that is close to ?ideas generators?. Other organisations and funding streams are more focused on the ?downstream? part, commercialisation and exploitation, and i4i will work with them. i4i has three funding streams.

Key features of FPD:

  • Flexibility of entry points; depending on the maturity of the idea, investigators can apply for funding from any of three streams and if appropriate proceed from stream to stream.
  • Co-ordination between streams through having one secretariat.
  • Support to projects that meet milestones and show promise to move onto the next funding stream with minimum delay and to accelerate them along the innovation pathway.
  • Rolling programme of calls for proposals to fit better with the innovation process.

Project teams applying for funding will be building on prior basic research investigating the feasibility of a technique or technology aimed at addressing an existing or emerging healthcare need. Projects may also be utilising techniques or technologies from a different industry sector which could have a potential impact if applied in a healthcare setting. Projects studying disruptive technologies will also be accepted. Each project will be assessed on its individual merits, against the criteria above.

The FPD funding streams cover projects concerning:

  • medical devices falling within the scope of the EU Medical Devices Directives
  • other products used in the NHS which are closely associated with clinical care eg cleaner/sterilisers;
  • novel information technology that enables a significant improvement in the performance of healthcare technologies
  • disruptive technologies, as defined as a revolutionary, new, innovative technology that displaces a preexisting one by out-performing current techniques.

Proposals to all FPD funding streams are assessed on individual merit and will be judged against the following four criteria:

  • Criterion 1: Strong evidence of clinical need and high relevance to the NHS.
  • Criterion 2: An innovative step and a potential to generate and exploit intellectual property.
  • Criterion 3: Clear and accessible route to market and identifiable capacity to develop applications and exploit them.
  • Criterion 4: The project team and project plan need to be appropriate for the scale and complexity of the project.

More information is contained within the guidance instructions on completing the application form.

Other i4i activities:

  • Healthcare Technology Co-operatives ? based in two NHS Trusts, the pilot Healthcare Technology Co-operatives (HTCs) being funded as part of the NIHR Invention for Innovation (i4i) Programme, are a new type of NHS-led virtual organisation which bring together a wide spectrum of stakeholders with a common purpose. These include patients, carers, academics, clinicians, nurses and other healthcare providers working in partnership with industry to catalyse the development of innovative healthcare technology products.


The Challenge Fund for Innovation (CFI) is one of the mechanisms where NIHR is stimulating the flow of good ideas which can be turned into products for the NHS. CFI is gaining access to good ideas by co-investing in appropriate activities operated by other organisations such as other government departments, research councils and the private sector. NIHR?s investment can be in the form of working closely with the organisation to help set the agenda as well as contributing funds to specific projects.

Currently i4i?s partners include:

  • Assisted Living Innovation Platform of the Technology Strategy Board (TSB)
  • Knowledge Transfer Partnerships programme of TSB
  • Medical Futures competition
  • MATCH plus research collaboration funded by EPSRC
  • Small Business Research Initiative (SBRI).

The SBRI funding stream complements FPD. Under SBRI, companies respond to a requirements specification provided by i4i. The aim of the SBRI programme is to provide a route where NHS needs can be met directly. There is a two-phase funding process:

  • One or more proposals are funded to demonstrate they can meet the requirements.
  • One or more successful phase 1 projects are funded to demonstrate commercial potential.

For more information, contact:
Tel: 020 8943 8990

Added the 25 August 2009 in category Innovation UK Vol5-1

Related elements :

Improving health and wealth of the nation
The National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) was set up in 2006 to build the world-class health research system needed to deliver high-quality| research and innovation across the NHS.

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