As the United Kingdom's National Health Service (NHS) embarks on a mission to revolutionise patient care and streamline operations, it has become increasingly committed to fostering tech and innovation within the medical and healthcare sectors. With an eye toward the future, the NHS is actively seeking to collaborate with and support start-up and scale-up companies eager to disrupt the industry through ground-breaking technologies and inventive solutions.
In this article, we will explore the various healthcare funding streams and accelerator programs designed to facilitate trailblazing endeavours and empower the next generation of healthcare pioneers to reshape the landscape of the NHS for the better.
The UK’s first MedTech strategy
At the start of 2023, the UK government unveiled its first-ever medical technology (MedTech) strategy (Source), outlining plans to guarantee that the health and social care system has consistent access to safe, effective, and innovative medical technologies.
This strategy complements and bolsters the Life Sciences Vision, aiming to solidify the UK's position as a global science powerhouse. The strategic priorities were formulated in collaboration with partners from industry, government, and the healthcare system to pinpoint crucial areas of focus, including but not limited to:
Ensuring resilience and continuity of supply for medtech products
Supporting innovation and fostering thriving, dynamic markets
Developing the necessary infrastructure
Concentrating on key issues and markets
By addressing these priority areas, the MedTech strategy aims to facilitate the availability of the right product, at the right price, and in the right place. This approach will help maintain the provision of high-quality care, exceptional patient safety, and excellent patient outcomes while optimising the use of taxpayer money. A promising sign for companies who are looking to win government procurement contracts with innovative technologies.
(1) National Institute for Health Research (NIHR)
The NIHR is a leading organisation in the UK dedicated to funding and supporting health and care research. It provides a range of funding opportunities for researchers and organisations aiming to improve patient outcomes and public health.
By applying for NIHR funding, applicants can gain access to:
Resources: financial support, tools, and materials provided by the NIHR to facilitate research and development in the healthcare sector/
Expertise: knowledge, skills, and experience of professionals affiliated with the NIHR, who can offer guidance and advice on conducting research and implementing findings in practical healthcare applications.
Support: opportunities for mentorship, networking opportunities, access to potential collaborators, and tailored guidance to help researchers navigate challenges and successfully translate their research findings into practical healthcare applications.
The NIHR also offers research training programs and collaborative opportunities to strengthen research capacity and foster innovation in healthcare.
Working in partnership with the NHS, universities, local government, other research funders, patients, and the public, they fund, enable, and deliver world-leading health and social care research that improve people's health and wellbeing and promotes economic growth.
They are funded by the Department of Health and Social Care. Their work focuses on early translational research, clinical research, and applied health and social care research projects which address their published research priorities.
The NIHR are centred on England but collaborate closely with the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. They are also a major funder of applied health research in low and middle-income countries, work that is principally funded through UK aid from the UK government.
NIHR example innovation investments
1,000s of patients are set to benefit from artificial intelligence (AI) technologies thanks to £36 million for new research, delivered in partnership with NHS-X. Technology that can detect cancer and an app that provides AI mental health support are among 38 newly funded innovations to be tested across the health service to help speed up diagnosis and improve care.
Visit www.NIHR.ac.uk for more information.
(2) Invention For Innovation (i4i) Programme
The Invention for Innovation (i4i) Programme is a translational funding scheme designed to accelerate the development and adoption of healthcare technologies and interventions that provide significant patient benefits in areas of existing or emerging healthcare needs. The program focuses on de-risking early-to-late stage medical devices, in vitro diagnostics, and high-impact patient-focused digital health technologies, with the ultimate goal of integrating them into the NHS.
i4i Funding Streams
The i4i Programme offers three funding streams to support the development and implementation of innovative healthcare solutions:
Product Development Awards (PDA)
The PDA funding stream provides financial support to researchers and innovators working on the development of cutting-edge medical devices, in vitro diagnostics, and digital health technologies. This support helps to advance projects from the early stages of development through to the later stages, mitigating risks and accelerating progress towards NHS adoption.
The Challenge Awards are designed to address specific, identified healthcare challenges by funding innovative projects that have the potential to make a significant impact on patient care and outcomes. These awards encourage researchers and innovators to develop novel solutions to pressing healthcare issues, fostering collaboration and the exchange of ideas across disciplines.
The Connect funding stream aims to promote collaboration between researchers, clinicians, and industry partners by supporting the development of networks and partnerships focused on advancing healthcare innovation. By connecting experts from various fields, the Connect stream facilitates the exchange of knowledge and expertise, ultimately accelerating the translation of innovative healthcare solutions into clinical practice.
By offering these three funding streams, the i4i Programme plays a crucial role in driving the development and adoption of ground-breaking healthcare technologies and interventions, ultimately enhancing patient care and outcomes within the NHS.
(3) Academic Health Science Networks (AHSNs)
The AHSNs play a pivotal role in fostering innovation within the UK's National Health Service (NHS). By bridging the gap between academia, industry, and healthcare providers, AHSNs create an ecosystem that accelerates the development and adoption of new products and technologies. This collaborative framework ensures that cutting-edge research and innovations can be translated efficiently into real-world healthcare solutions.
AHSNs leverage their regional networks to identify unmet clinical needs and facilitate the development of novel products and services. By providing support and resources to innovators, they enable the rapid evaluation, scaling, and diffusion of new solutions across the NHS. This not only helps improve patient outcomes, but also contributes to the overall efficiency and cost-effectiveness of the healthcare system.
Helping innovation tech companies...
- Get funding, introductions and advice
- Navigate the nuances of the health and care system
- Take your idea through a proven innovation pipeline
- Build a base of evidence that can win over stakeholders
Its national innovation pipeline features more than 1,200 proven technologies ready to be matched to local health and care challenges.
(4) Innovate UK (UKRI) Biomedical Catalyst
The Biomedical Catalyst, managed by Innovate UK (part of UK Research and Innovation), is a flagship funding program designed to support innovative healthcare and life science projects. It provides financial support to start-ups, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), and academic researchers working on biomedical innovations.
2023 plans are to invest up to £25 million in innovation projects to encourage UK registered businesses to create solutions for significant health and healthcare challenges. The primary goal of this industry-driven R&D competition is to foster the development of novel solutions that address pressing health and healthcare issues.
Projects participating in the competition can concentrate on numerous areas of healthcare:
Disease prevention and proactive management of health and chronic conditions, aiming to reduce the burden of illnesses and improve overall health.
Early Disease Detection
Earlier and improved detection and diagnosis of diseases, which leads to better patient outcomes by enabling timely interventions and treatments.
Personalised treatments that target the underlying causes of diseases or offer potential cures, enhancing the effectiveness of healthcare.
Transforming the delivery of healthcare by introducing new approaches, methods, or technologies that streamline processes and enhance patient experiences.
Digital Health Technologies
Developing digital health technologies that leverage modern advancements to improve healthcare access, efficiency, and outcomes.
By applying for this program, applicants can secure funding to accelerate the development of novel healthcare solutions, reduce time-to-market, and drive economic growth in the sector.
Visit Innovate UKRI Biomedical Catalyst for more information
(5) Medical Research Council (UKRI – MRC)
The Medical Research Council, also part of UK Research and Innovation, is committed to funding world-class research in biomedical sciences. It offers various funding opportunities for researchers at different career stages, including grants, fellowships, and partnership awards. Applying for MRC funding can help researchers access financial support, resources, and networks to advance scientific knowledge and improve healthcare outcomes.
The UKRI's Medical Research Council (MRC) funds a diverse range of innovations in biomedical sciences, focusing on advancing scientific knowledge to improve healthcare outcomes. Some popular types of innovations funded by the MRC include:
Novel therapeutics: Development of new drugs, therapies, or interventions that target specific diseases or conditions, aiming to improve treatment efficacy and patient outcomes.
Medical devices and diagnostics: Innovative tools, equipment, or diagnostic methods that enhance the accuracy and speed of disease detection, monitoring, and treatment.
Digital health and health informatics: Solutions that leverage digital technologies, data analytics, or artificial intelligence to improve healthcare delivery, patient engagement, and health outcomes.
Regenerative medicine and stem cell research: Innovations in tissue engineering, stem cell therapies, and regenerative medicine, aiming to repair or replace damaged tissues or organs.
Neuroscience and mental health: Projects that investigate the underlying mechanisms of neurological disorders, mental health conditions, and strategies for prevention and treatment.
Infection and immunity: Research on understanding infectious diseases, host-pathogen interactions, and the development of vaccines, immunotherapies, or strategies to combat antimicrobial resistance.
Funding opportunities from the Medical Research Council include:
These grants are popular as they provide support for focused research projects across a wide range of topics, from basic science to clinical studies. They enable investigators to secure funding for specific studies, ensuring resources for necessary personnel, equipment, and materials, thus fostering innovative research and scientific advancements.
Researchers often seek these grants as they offer long-term support for large-scale research programs, typically spanning several years. This funding provides stability and facilitates ambitious, multidisciplinary projects, encouraging collaboration and knowledge sharing across diverse research areas, ultimately contributing to major breakthroughs in biomedical science.
These grants support collaborative research projects involving multiple institutions, fostering synergies between academic, clinical, and industry partners. By promoting cooperation and pooling expertise, resources, and facilities, partnership grants can help drive research innovation, accelerate technology development, and ultimately improve healthcare outcomes.
These grants fund research projects in priority areas identified by the MRC, supporting studies with the potential for significant scientific or societal impact. By focusing on targeted research themes, strategic grants aim to address pressing health challenges, stimulate innovative solutions, and contribute to improvements in public health and patient care.
(6) NHS Innovation Service
The NHS Innovation Service aims to identify, support, and scale innovative healthcare solutions within the National Health Service. It offers guidance, tools, and resources for innovators and entrepreneurs to develop and implement their ideas in the healthcare sector. By engaging with the NHS Innovation Service, applicants can benefit from expert advice, networking opportunities, and access to potential funding sources to help drive their innovations forward. What’s great about the NHS Innovation Service for companies with medical technology or healthcare innovations looking to win procurement contracts?
The NHS Innovation Service is tailored to the healthcare sector, providing targeted support and guidance for innovative tech companies that aim to improve patient care, enhance healthcare efficiency, and address pressing healthcare challenges.
The program offers access to various funding streams and investment opportunities, enabling companies to secure the necessary resources for research, development, and market entry.
Validation and credibility
Being part of the NHS Innovation Service lends credibility to tech companies, as their association with a recognised and respected healthcare institution can instil confidence in potential investors, partners, and customers.
NHS Innovation Roadmap
The NHS Innovation Guide provides a comprehensive roadmap for innovators looking to introduce their health innovations into the NHS, consisting of 5 main steps:
In the early stages of development, it is essential to consider the value proposition structure to effectively communicate the innovation's potential to decision-makers and buyers. Protecting intellectual property (IP) is also crucial throughout the innovation process.
During product prototyping, development, and testing, innovators should identify market needs and values, conduct market research, involve patients and users in testing and development (Patient and Public Involvement or PPI), and create a budget impact model to determine the financial and resource requirements for implementing the innovation.
Demonstrating the innovation's effectiveness involves collecting data from various sources, such as outcome measures, quantitative experimental studies (e.g. Randomised Control Trials), quantitative observational studies, qualitative studies, health economic studies, and real-world evidence. The Population, Intervention, Comparator, and Outcomes (PICO) framework can be used to present evidence in a structured manner.
Innovators must comply with relevant regulations depending on the type of innovation, such as medical devices, in vitro diagnostic devices, medicinal products, surgical or invasive procedures, or digital products and services. Registration with the appropriate authorities (e.g., MHRA) is necessary, and additional guidance may be required in some cases.
Commissioning and adoption
Understanding the NHS's structure and processes, such as health technology evaluation (NICE CHTE), commissioning, procurement frameworks, and the NHS Supply Chain, is crucial for the adoption process. Various support services and programs, such as the Artificial Intelligence (AI) Award, are available to help with the adoption of new innovations into the NHS.
The roadmap has been developed in accordance with Accelerated Access Collaborative. This is a collaboration between patient groups, government bodies, industry and NHS bodies. We’ve also asked experienced innovators.
NHS Innovation Accelerator
The NHS Innovation Accelerator is a program that supports the adoption and spread of proven, impactful innovations across the NHS. It offers a unique package of support, including mentorship, funding, and access to a nationwide network of healthcare experts and leaders.
By joining the NHS Innovation Accelerator, innovators can benefit from tailored assistance, increased visibility, and a platform to scale their healthcare solutions across the NHS, ultimately improving patient care and outcomes.
(7) The Wellcome Trust
The Wellcome Trust is a leading research foundation that funds researchers to explore vital questions relating to life, health, and wellbeing using creative approaches that push boundaries. They plan to invest £16 billion by 2032 in advancing scientific discovery and addressing the world's most urgent health issues. The Wellcome Trust funds discovery research in and across physical, social, data and life sciences, the humanities and clinical research. Each scheme is designed to target a different career stage, but all are open to the best ideas across a huge remit.
Wellcome Trust Funding Opportunities
The Wellcome Trust offers various grants and awards to researchers at all stages of their careers. They fund discovery research in and across physical, social, data and life sciences, the humanities, and clinical research. The grant schemes are designed to target different career stages but are open to the best ideas across a wide range of fields. They also provide specific funding opportunities in mental health, infectious disease, and climate and health.
Wellcome Early-Career Awards
These awards are designed to help early-career researchers establish their independence and set their trajectory in discovery research. The aim is to enable talented researchers to transition from mentored to independent positions, giving them the freedom and resources to pursue their own research interests.
Wellcome Career Development Awards
Targeting mid-career researchers who have demonstrated their potential to excel, the Wellcome Career Development Awards cater to those who are ready to lead substantial, innovative research programs and achieve international standing. These awards provide researchers with the resources necessary to take their research to the next level, fostering leadership skills, and enabling them to make a significant impact on their chosen fields.
Wellcome Discovery Awards
The Wellcome Discovery Awards support established researchers and teams who have already made significant contributions to their fields. These awards aim to fuel further innovation by providing the necessary resources to tackle ambitious research questions and challenges. Recognizing the value of collaboration, the Wellcome Discovery Awards also encourage interdisciplinary research by funding teams that bring together experts from diverse backgrounds.
Wellcome Trust represents a great opportunity for medical innovation funding. They believe that groundbreaking discoveries are more likely to occur through collaborations between diverse people, so they work closely with partners and the teams they fund to support a thriving, inclusive research culture.
Mental health: funds groundbreaking research into the causes and treatment of anxiety, depression, and psychosis
Infectious Disease: funds cutting-edge research to prevent infectious diseases in humans from spreading out of control
Climate & Health: funds vital research exploring the impact of climate change on human health
Applying for and managing grants
The Wellcome Trust provides detailed funding guidance on how to apply for funding, manage funding, and more. They also invite organisations to apply for contract opportunities that support their mission. Researchers and organisations with innovative ideas that cannot be supported through their existing funding schemes or calls are encouraged to contact the relevant team.
In summary, the Wellcome Trust's grant funding opportunities are aimed at fostering innovation and collaboration in research, unlocking the potential to make significant advances in life, health, and wellbeing.
The UK healthcare sector has a robust ecosystem of funding opportunities and accelerator programs aimed at fostering innovation and improving patient care.
With the release of the UK's first MedTech Strategy, initiatives like the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR), Invention for Innovation (i4i) Programme, Innovate UK's Biomedical Catalyst, the Medical Research Council (MRC), and the NHS Innovation Service are driving cutting-edge research and development. Additionally, the Wellcome Trust provides support for a wide range of research areas, further solidifying the UK's commitment to advancing healthcare through innovative solutions.
By leveraging these resources, the UK is positioning itself as a global leader in healthcare innovation, ultimately enhancing patient outcomes and quality of life.
For help with funding, grants and contract opportunities in the medical and healthcare market, speak to one of our specialist consultants at firstname.lastname@example.org