Amongst the many announcements in the March Budget, the government pledged to invest almost £1 billion over five years into 12 investment zones, across the UK. This is part of a growing focus on improving the way we leverage the science, technology, R&D and knowledge in universities for the prosperity, health and welfare of the wider population.
A series of investments totalling £100 million to create ‘growth-boosting’ innovation accelerators in three regions (Birmingham, Glasgow, and Manchester) were also announced. These pilot programmes began last year, and the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) Innovation Board led a process with representatives from Innovate UK and the new Department of Science, Innovation and Technology (DSIT) to select investable projects. Five have been chosen to receive this region’s share of the funds. The largest of these is the ‘West Midlands HealthTech and MedTech ‘6D’ Innovation Accelerator (6D-IA)’, which is led by the University of Birmingham.
Medical and Healthcare Technology is a high-growth sector world-wide, with the total UK market value predicted to go from £17bn to £21bn by 2027. The development of this sector is critical to enable economic growth but also to ensure that we can provide for the needs of our ageing population.Professor Simon Collinson & Professor Liam Grover - University of Birmingham
Medical and Healthcare Technology is a high-growth sector world-wide, with the total UK market value predicted to go from £17bn to £21bn by 2027. The development of this sector is critical to enable economic growth but also to ensure that we can provide for the needs of our ageing population. As such, it’s important that investment and talent flows into the sector and that new and innovative technologies benefit the UK population first.
Despite the clear potential of the sector and predicted high growth rates, there are some major barriers to success that many companies fail to address, slowing the uptake of such technologies by healthcare providers and hindering growth. Complex regulation and manufacturing challenges, for example, can significantly slow or even prevent the successful translation of medical technologies to the clinic. The 6Ds (Diagnosis, Definition, Development, Deployment, Diversification, Demonstration) Innovation Accelerator will address these issues by uniting stakeholders across the Birmingham WMCA area – supporting medical innovators at all stages of the development pathway. This coordinated activity will enable the acceleration of technologies and help position companies to lever private investment.
The government’s aim is to fund R&D projects that will ‘accelerate the growth of high-potential innovation clusters and support Levelling Up’. All the IA Programme projects will formally commence this Spring once they have undergone Innovate UKs normal due diligence checks ahead of formal grant offer letters being issued. Shaped to respond to this challenge, the 6D-IA project is unusual in several ways.
First, the project is expected to act as a magnet for attracting more public and private R&D investment into the region. Ideally, it will prove to be the catalyst for an innovation cluster over the longer-term, with a growing number of firms and skills, as well as increasing international investment - lifting the region as a global hotspot for innovation in healthcare and life sciences. The aim is to create an internationally leading medical technology cluster in the Midlands, building on the existing critical mass of regional assets, skills, and knowledge to attract private investment in medical innovation to the region.
Second, it combines university-based R&D with initiatives for knowledge translation and commercialisation, skills development, and business support. All are important components of innovation but are often subject to separate policy interventions and investments by separate government agencies. Alongside R&D we need to promote the adoption and diffusion of new technologies and processes, helping public and private sector organisations adapt to benefit from the resulting innovation. Over the longer term this strengthens regional innovation ecosystems and creates more competitive firms and better employment opportunities as well as improved healthcare.
In partnership with other universities, including Aston and Warwick, the project will support business spinouts and start-ups, and build more entrepreneurial skills in the region to attract new venture capital investment. Small firms will also be supported to scale up and improve their productivity and innovative capabilities.
Third, the University of Birmingham is leading a very large public-private consortium involving universities, local authorities, and private firms across the region. In keeping with the objectives of Innovate UK, government and the WMCA there is a collective aim to benefit the city-region, first and foremost, so the project aligns with specific local challenges and opportunities.
Using the research and knowledge generated by universities in the region, the IA will work with local healthcare providers to ensure that technologies are fit for purpose and have a pathway into clinical use at the earliest possible opportunity. By focusing, in part, on the healthcare needs of our highly diverse local population, this will help deliver inclusive growth, and reduce the impact of healthcare inequalities in the West Midlands and beyond.