Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy
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Innovative regulators given £12 million to accelerate introduction of delivery drones and personalised medicines

Twenty four innovative projects awarded up to £12 million to remove regulatory barriers and support businesses brings products and services to market.

  • 24 winning bidders for the £12 million Regulators’ Pioneer Fund announced today to help remove regulatory red tape across key UK sectors and drive growth
  • projects range from testing drone flights in Scotland that could deliver essential cargo to new tech that could reduce the backlog of court cases compounded by COVID-19
  • Science Minister George Freeman said: “We are putting innovation at the heart of everything we do, including regulation which, if set up in the right way, can act a key driver to our international competitiveness.”

Science Minister George Freeman has today (30 November) awarded up to £12 million to UK regulators to help drive forward innovation, remove red tape and establish the UK as world leader in technologies of the future – from AI to help treat rare diseases, to drones monitoring safety on construction sites.

The Regulators’ Pioneer Fund is funding 24 regulator and local authority led projects across the UK that will help to remove regulatory barriers to innovation, supporting businesses across key UK sectors – from net-zero to healthcare – bring their products and services to market more quickly. If successful, these projects could lead to faster deployment of low carbon technologies like carbon capture and hydrogen, more tailored treatment for disease in the NHS and drones to deliver cargo and medicines safely.

Minister for Innovation George Freeman said:

The pace of new technology - from AI in healthcare to drone delivery to nutraceuticals - is creating a huge opportunity for the UK to be a global leader in testing new technologies and setting appropriate regulatory standards, which are key to investor & customer confidence.

That’s why our Innovation Strategy and Taskforce on Innovation Growth & Regulatory Reform (TIGRR) reforms are key to making the UK a global testbed and innovative regulator.

Today’s funding will support 24 pioneering testbeds to experiment and innovate, while helping our brightest businesses in bringing game-changing products and services to market.

Among those receiving funding today:

£750,387 to the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agencyfor a project seeking to create an entirely artificially generated control group – with similar health information to real patients – for use in clinical trials. If successful, this could change the way clinical trials are performed in common and rare diseases, lowering their cost and improving how new treatments are tested before they are applied in the NHS.

£961,650 to the Civil Aviation Authority to collaborate with the aviation industry and academia to enhance the understanding of hydrogen-related risks to aviation safety, identify gaps in policies, and propose recommendations to develop new net-zero policies. Hydrogen propulsion solutions offering the potential for no carbon emission flights are at an early stage of development. This project will help to make the UK a world leader in the use of hydrogen in aviation, influence the development of future global standards, and make the UK a prime destination for investment in this area, driving economic growth.

£66,259 to support Wakefield Council develop a ‘first of its kind’ interactive tool to help SMEs distinguish between controlled and uncontrolled cross-contamination of food allergens and improve awareness of effective allergen risk analysis. This will help businesses avoid general or blanket statements such as ‘may contain’ and enable them to provide clearer and more meaningful information to consumers with food allergies.

£250,000 for Argyll and Bute Council to partner with Skyports and Air Navigation Solutions Limited to undertake trials over the west-coast of Scotland testing the safe integration of drones within manned and unmanned airspace. This could enable the timely and safe delivery of medicines and cargo in remote locations.

Over £555,000 for the Health & Safety Executive to lead a project to develop and test innovative approaches to specific health and safety challenges in the construction sector. This could include wearable technologies monitoring the health of workers or drones that are used for inspection on construction sites.

Today’s funding is a key example of how the UK is using its newfound Brexit freedoms to create a new regulatory framework that prioritises innovation, growth and inward investment.

This follows the Chancellor’s announcement at the Autumn Statement where he revealed the government is tasking the government Chief Scientific Adviser Sir Patrick Vallance to lead work to consider how the UK can better regulate emerging technologies, enabling their rapid and safe introduction.

To ensure the UK continues to seize these opportunities, the independent Regulatory Horizons Council has today published 2 important reports on the regulation of Artificial Intelligence as a Medical Device (AIaMD) and neurotechnology. The reports provide government with advice on areas where regulatory reform can enable technological innovation in these crucial fields to facilitate their rapid and safe introduction.

Building on this, today the government has also commissioned the Regulatory Horizons Council to undertake a review on the regulation of quantum technologies - an emerging sector with anticipated impacts across many areas including space, finance, pharmaceuticals, and materials. Creating a regulatory environment that promotes innovation and growth of the UK quantum industry will enable the UK to lead the debate in international fora and ensure that quantum technologies are used for the benefit of UK society, with global productivity gains from quantum anticipated to be worth $100 billion within the next few decades.

Notes to editors

The funding of projects is subject to agreement of contracts. The selected Regulators’ Pioneer Fund projects will launch in January 2023 (for 8-month projects) and September 2023 (for 12-18-month projects). To maximise the value of these projects and mainstream proven regulatory approaches to support innovation, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy will continue to convene a ‘Regulators’ Innovation Network’. This serves as a forum for regulators to share best practice and foster a culture of collaboration and experimentation that will enable businesses to bring their innovations to market.

Other projects to receive funding today

The Environment Agency will use £271,975 to fund world-leading digital twin modelling to create a digital representation of a real-world place and system, so they can simulate the operation of multiple low carbon technologies like carbon capture and storage and hydrogen production in an industrial cluster and use the information to work with industry on plans for deployment. This work will allow the Environment Agency to ‘see the future’ and shape it, leading to faster deployment timescales and lower environmental risk.

The Greater London Authority will receive £264,000 to innovate in the delivery of critical sustainable drainage systems, particularly in conjunction with streetworks, which could enable up to 25% cost saving in delivery, removing blockers to scaling up the approach. The project is an important step in managing London’s drainage system for the future, a necessary move highlighted recently by Thames Water’s plans to increase sustainable drainage system delivery from a current rate of 20 hectares every 5 years to achieve a total of 7,000 hectares by 2050.

The biological medicines laboratories of the MHRA (previously the National Institute for Biological Standards and Control (NIBSC)) will use funding of £52,438 to collaborate across the MHRA and with a national and international network of scientists, clinicians, companies and regulators to develop guidelines for microbiome therapeutics and diagnostics. This will bring confidence for industry to invest in this novel and complex area and speed up approval processes, ensuring fast and safe access to new therapeutics for consumers in the move towards personalised medicine.

The Care Quality Commission (CQC) will receive over £222,000 to lead a project that will directly address environmental sustainability challenges associated with medicines use across the health and care landscape. It will focus on understanding how better sustainability can be fostered within both individual providers and local systems settings. The CQC will use the new evidence base created by this project to evolve how they regulate medicines sustainability and crucially, how this can drive innovation in this area.

Coventry City Council will use £268,175 to lead a project to explore the use of commercial drones, which could offer significant potential for fast, safe, cheap and sustainable delivery in urban areas, but are constrained by regulatory barriers that restrict usage. Starting at the local level, a series of workshops will bring together relevant stakeholders and regulators to identify solutions to these barriers, with findings shared more widely to allow the whole UK to benefit.

Plymouth County Council will receive £842,490 to develop a framework for testing autonomous and prototype maritime vessels for research and development (R&D), which will be initially implemented within Smart Sound Plymouth. Working with the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, Plymouth Marine Laboratory, and the Universities of Plymouth and Exeter, this project will put the UK in the leading role as an international centre for zero emissions and autonomous vessel innovation and manufacturing. These vessels can be deployed across multiple maritime sectors, including as platforms for academic research, monitoring and mapping and transporting cargo.

The Solicitors Regulation Authority (SRA) will be backed by £119,691 to explore alternative methods of technology-enabled Dispute Resolution which could reduce the backlog of court cases, compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic.

We will publish the full list of winning bids later today.

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