Research into new care technologies gets £6.25m in funding

BMJ 2012; 345 doi: (Published 23 November 2012) Cite this as: BMJ 2012;345:e8006
  1. Krishna Chinthapalli
  1. 1BMJ

Sally Davies, England’s chief medical officer, has invited researchers and academics to apply for a total of up to £6.25m (€7.7m; $1bn) to develop new devices and technologies for the care of patients. The money is part of a new round of funding in the National Institute of Health Research’s invention for innovation (“i4i”) programme.

At a press conference on 22 November to launch the new funding, Davies introduced examples of recent awards, including a gadget for early detection of HIV in the community. Rachel McKendry, one of the study’s lead investigators, hoped that her prototype would detect the presence of HIV antigenic proteins in a drop of fingerprick blood. It would use disposable microchip sensors and would connect to a smartphone to analyse and present the results. She speculated that the device may cost around £20, plus “a couple of pounds” for each microchip sensor, and would be developed by two corporate partners.

Among other examples of successful grants was one for computerised glasses for visually impaired people and an electrical muscle stimulator to prevent deep vein thrombosis in patients under general anaesthesia.

The i4i programme was set up in 2009 to help bridge biomedical research across the “valley of death.” Martin Hunt, i4i programme director at the National Institute of Health Research, explained that this represented translational research that was too advanced to get funding from traditional sources, such as charities or the Medical Research Council, but too early to attract venture capital investment. Lack of funding made it difficult to implement new devices in clinical pathways even when there was clinical evidence, said the institute. At present i4i allocates £13m a year to a range of organisations, from private enterprises to universities.

One concern was that although private enterprises have to team up with a university or the NHS to be eligible for i4i, they may fully retain intellectual property rights and profits.

Damian Bond, head of a start-up company called ProKyma, said that i4i research grants were actually investments. ProKyma was using an i4i grant to develop a new blood test for cancer cells. If the trials were successful, the National Institute of Health Research would “get a return on the investment, probably in the form of royalties,” he said.

The scheme has strong government backing. In a speech made at a biotechnology conference last year Prime Minister David Cameron said, “As you look to work more and more with smaller companies it is crucial that we do more to deal with the funding gap that so many people face—the so called valley of death. So we’ve got a whole package of measures to bridge that gap.”

He continued, “I want the great discoveries of the next decade happening right here in British laboratories—the new technologies born in British start-ups, proven in British hospitals.”


Cite this as: BMJ 2012;345:e8006