David Willetts welcomes Universities Week with £48 million investment in biomedical research

9 Jun 2014 04:16 PM

David Willetts announces £48 million of new investment in biomedical research. 

David Willetts yesterday (9 June 2014) used his speech at Bournemouth University to announce £48 million of new investment in biomedical research.

More than 70 cutting edge research projects have been chosen. They include a revolutionary blood test which can identify Alzheimer’s, a potential new gene therapy for Parkinson’s Disease, a new approach for treating cancerous tumours, and a wearable blanket providing light therapy for jaundiced new-borns or conditions such as psoriasis.

The theme of this year’s Universities Week focuses on how university research impacts on our everyday life. The week-long, nationwide event, will celebrate the important role university research plays in improving people’s lives.

Commenting after his speech, Universities and Science Minister David Willetts said:

The projects we are funding through the Biomedical Catalyst are testament to the depth and quality of our British research base.

Investing in this research will not only help us to realise treatments that could have remained trapped in the laboratory; but it will ensure that the UK continues to lead the global race in research and development.

The UK life science industry is one of the world leaders; it is the third largest contributor to economic growth in the UK with more than 4,000 companies, employing around 160,000 people and with a total annual turnover of over £50 billion. Its success is key to future economic growth and our goal to rebalance the economy towards making new products and selling them to the world. Globally the industry is changing with more focus on collaboration, out-sourcing of research and earlier clinical trials with patients.

The Biomedical Catalyst is a scheme run jointly by the Medical Research Council and the UK’s innovation agency (the Technology Strategy Board), to find solutions to healthcare challenges. It supports the best life science opportunities in the UK to help speed up the transition from discovery science to commercial application.

Iain Gray, Chief Executive of the Technology Strategy Board said:

This round of funding is the latest in a series from the Biomedical Catalyst, which has been successful in not just supporting individual healthcare innovations, but also attracting additional investment from industry.

The companies we’ve supported via these funding rounds have all developed innovations with the potential to transform healthcare approaches and achieve commercial success. We’re proud to be supporting them on that journey from healthcare concept through to availability in the marketplace.

Professor Sir John Savill, Chief Executive of the Medical Research Council said:

Since its inception, the Biomedical Catalyst has awarded over £170 million to UK scientists and businesses. This has been matched by an additional £97 million of private investment, with more likely to come as prospects are developed. The academic-industry partnerships forged through this investment will help to improve lives by delivering the next generation of innovative therapies and will help drive the UK economy.

Other innovations being developed will tackle issues around the treatment of cancerous tumours, atrial fibrillation, haemophilia, eye disease, blood-borne infections, chronic pain, rheumatoid arthritis, youth obesity, and Clostridium difficile.

Grant funding through the Biomedical Catalyst is available to academics and UK small and medium sized businesses looking to develop innovative solutions to healthcare challenges either individually or in collaboration. Support is available for projects arising from any sector or discipline.

Notes to editors:

1.Case studies.

Example academic-led projects:

Smartphone app to detect and monitor attentional deficits in delirium.

Biomedical Catalyst funding will enable researchers at the University of Edinburgh to develop a smartphone app that could help diagnose delirium. Delirium (or acute confusional state) is a severe deterioration in mental functioning that affects at least 1 in 8 of all acute hospital patients. It is highly distressing for patients and carers, and has multiple other adverse consequences including an increased risk of death. However, despite the seriousness of the condition, there is a lack of objective neuropsychological tests which can detect and monitor attentional deficits - the key cognitive feature of delirium. Professor Alasdair MacLullich’s team at the University of Edinburgh previously developed a computerised neuropsychological test to measure attentional deficits as part of delirium assessment. Using Catalyst funding they will now turn this test into a smartphone app (the ‘DelApp’) and conduct clinical trials to see if this can be used effectively in a hospital setting.

Intelligent prosthetic liners could ease pain for lower limb amputees.

A new device could help to relieve the pain and discomfort experienced by thousands of amputees as a result of poorly fitting replacement lower limbs. Researchers have been awarded Biomedical Catalyst funding to develop a prototype of the world’s first prosthetic ‘intelligent’ liner with integrated pressure sensors, which could be available to NHS patients in as little as 3 years. The sensors for the device, invented by Dr Liudi Jiang and colleagues at the University of Southampton, measure the pressure and pulling forces at the interface between a patient’s stump and the socket of their prosthesis. In excess these pressures can cause tissue damage, leading to painful sores. The academic team will work with a leading British company, Chas A Blatchford & Sons Ltd, to fine-tune the design and develop the sensor into a range of thin prosthetic liners to fit sockets of any shape and size.

Artificial blood to save lives in emergency situations.

A team of scientists at the University of Essex has been awarded Biomedical Catalyst funding to develop a one-size-fits-all, third generation artificial blood substitute with a shelf life of up to 2 years. Led by Professor Chris Cooper, the research team are developing an artificial blood substitute, which is a safe, long-lasting, virus-free alternative to current blood transfusions that could be made available to all countries, immediately accessible at the site of natural disasters. The innovation is based on haemoglobin, the key protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen around our body. The Haem02 team aim to create an artificial haemoglobin-based oxygen carrier (HBOC) that could be used as a substitute for blood lost in surgery or trauma. The work at Essex is co-funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC).

Example business-led projects:

Blood test to diagnose Alzheimer’s.

Dementia is a growing problem with 800,000 people affected in the UK alone. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common accounting for 62% of cases. Parkinson’s disease is the next most common neurological disorder and subsets of this disease also cause dementia as well.

At present there is no simple blood test that can accurately diagnose these different diseases and that causes complications in prescribing the correct treatment and also changing treatments quickly as they stop working. Proteins have been measured in cerebro-spinal fluid but collection is painful, can cause problems and cannot be used as a repeat monitoring diagnostic.

This approach brings together 3 technologies that allow measurement of these proteins in blood and particularly the aggregated forms which are thought to be toxic and cause the nerve damage in the brain. This feasibility study will measure samples from Alzheimer’s disease patients and change our understanding of diagnosis of this disease.

Ultrasound device to enhance cancer drug delivery.

OxSonics is developing a range of ultrasound-based medical devices including “SonoTran”, an innovative drug delivery platform. SonoTran has the capability to overcome one of the greatest challenges facing solid tumour cancer therapy by delivering drugs throughout tumours including difficult to reach areas such as those that lie farthest from blood vessels. Not only can SonoTran be applied to any cancer drug, it can also provide on-screen feedback in real-time to the clinician as to where and when drug delivery has taken place maximising the potential for complete tumour coverage. Biomedical Catalyst funding will initially create 4 new jobs rising to 24 new jobs by 2019 and support development of the SonoTran platform into clinical trials.

2.Yesterday’s announcement includes 43 awards to universities for academic-led projects (including £10.5 million to under the MRC’s annual Confidence in Concept award) and 33 business-led projects.

3.A Catalyst is a form of research and development funding which focuses on a specific priority area and aims to help take projects from research to as close to commercial viability as possible. Three categories of grant are available through the Catalyst: feasibility studies, early-stage awards and late-stage awards.

4.The Technology Strategy Board is the UK’s innovation agency. Its goal is to accelerate economic growth by stimulating and supporting business-led innovation. Sponsored by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), the Technology Strategy Board brings together business, research and the public sector, supporting and accelerating the development of innovative products and services to meet market needs, tackle major societal challenges and help build the future economy.

5.The Medical Research Council has been at the forefront of scientific discovery to improve human health. Founded in 1913 to tackle tuberculosis, the MRC now invests taxpayers’ money in some of the best medical research in the world across every area of health. Twenty-nine MRC-funded researchers have won Nobel prizes in a wide range of disciplines, and MRCscientists have been behind such diverse discoveries as vitamins, the structure of DNA and the link between smoking and cancer, as well as achievements such as pioneering the use of randomised controlled trials, the invention of MRI scanning, and the development of a group of antibodies used in the making of some of the most successful drugs ever developed. MRC-funded scientists tackle some of the greatest health problems facing humanity in the 21st century, from the rising tide of chronic diseases associated with ageing to the threats posed by rapidly mutating micro-organisms.

6.For more details about the business-led awards please contact Rod Alexander in the Technology Strategy Board media relations team. Tel: 07500 051101. Email: rod.alexander@tsb.gov.uk Alternatively, contact the Technology Strategy Board press office at 07766 901150. Email:pressoffice@tsb.gov.uk. Twitter: @TSBpressoffice

7.For further information about the academic awards, please contact Hannah Isom in the Medical Research Council press office. Tel: 020 7395 2345 (out of hours: 07818 428 297). Email: press.office@headoffice.mrc.ac.uk.