The healthcare technologies theme supports research across Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC)’s remit. The aim is to accelerate translation to healthcare applications.
Read the EPSRC healthcare technologies strategy.
We also partner with other organisations to accelerate translation of funded research through to products and practices. Details can be found here on our strategic partnerships.
UKRI ageing – lifelong health and wellbeing programme (LLHW)
The LLHW programme ran from 2008 until March 2015. It committed £48.6 million supporting multidisciplinary ageing research targeting areas of need to meet the challenges and opportunities of an ageing population.
Through LLHW, the research councils have facilitated new multidisciplinary research collaborations, built capacity, and worked with a wide variety of cross-sector stakeholders to raise the profile of ageing research in the UK.
The research councils envisage continued cross-council collaboration and funding opportunities for multidisciplinary ageing research and life-course health and wellbeing.
EPSRC and MRC joint statement on support for healthcare technologies
Support for healthcare technologies is of strategic importance to both EPSRC and Medical Research Council (MRC). We are committed to funding research projects and researchers of the highest international quality.
UK Regenerative Medicine Platform
Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, EPSRC and MRC have established a £25 million UK Regenerative Medicine Platform to address the technical and scientific challenges associated with translating promising scientific discoveries in this area towards clinical impact.
EPSRC also partners with other organisations to accelerate translation of funded research through to products and practices.
Understanding the funding landscape
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.
View an illustration on technology readiness levels: from basic research to adoption and diffusion.
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 and development to present a compelling case for further support.
View an illustration on the role of different funders in the Healthcare TRL landscape.
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 cannot 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
This is an institutional funding scheme that provides small-scale flexible support for impact activities arising from previously funded EPSRC awards. It 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.
Contact your institution’s research office to find out more.
National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) – Invention for innovation
This is a project-based support for clinical, academic or business-led projects. It supports projects to develop from experimental proof of concept through to early-stage clinical trials. Research can be academic, clinical or business led but must involve an NHS partner. It does not support animal studies.
Find out more about the NIHR Invention for Innovation funding programme.
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.
Medical research council (MRC) – Developmental Pathway Funding Scheme
This is 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.
Find out more about MRC’s Developmental Pathway Funding Scheme.
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. Cannot 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.
Small Business Research Initiative – SBRI Healthcare
This is 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.
Find out more about how SBRI Healthcare funds research.
Cancer Research UK
Cancer Research UK provides support for projects addressing cancer challenges via a broad variety of mechanisms.
Find out more about how Cancer Research UK funds researchers.
British Heart Foundation
The British Heart Foundation provides support for projects addressing cardiovascular health challenges via a broad variety of mechanisms.
Find out more about what the British Heart Foundation funds.
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 are the qualities of high-quality applications to relevant next-stage funders?
- Will your project deliver all the evidence and prior planning required to produce a high-quality application for next-stage funding?
For further information
The Office for Life Sciences guide to navigating the innovation pathway offers an excellent overview of the downstream landscape with a particular focus on developing products for the NHS.
The NIHR 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.