The COVID-19 sanitary crisis has had one silver lining: incredible innovations have emerged, fuelled by targeted funding opportunities. The past year has been particularly revolutionary for progress in biotechnology, a sector in which access to funding is often very difficult due to the high upfront costs of setting up in the industry.
Among the most striking transformations, the vaccine field – has evolved rapidly, sparked by the power of the synthetic messenger RNA technology, an innovation that directs protein production in cells. The urgency of the context catalysed the industrialisation of an innovation that had been in development for a decade, but was still hindered by the status quo. The Moderna vaccine for example benefited from several EU R&D funding programmes (e.g. 2018 European Research Council grant to explore the use of mRNA). A significant number of new vaccines are now in stage 3, and key innovations will soon arrive on the markets not only in formulations technologies, but also in delivery methods (including injection-less vaccines such as pills or nasal sprays).
The crisis also triggered a wave of innovation in the respiratory field, with startups playing a significant part. 93% of all medtech companies in the UK are SMEs (Innovate UK). In the UK, Circadia Health developed a groundbreaking contactless respiration rate monitor which gained an FDA clearance in June 2020. Our Leeds-based partners ActiveCell Technologies, who are specialise in 3D-printing, have exploited the potential of consumer-grade 3D-scanning to develop a range of tailored close-fitting face coverings, with support from an emergency fund released by Innovate UK last year. It becomes therefore obvious that on one hand that necessity is a major driver of innovation, while lack of access to funding on the other hand can be a major inhibitor.
While biotech startups attract more and more private investors, they still rely heavily on public funding. In the UK the Biomedical Catalyst for example offers various funding streams to answer this need. It was established by the UK government in 2011, and is run by Innovate UK and the Medical Research Council (MRC), with additional funding from Scottish Enterprise. This competitive application process unlocks grants for innovative biomedical solutions and was previously awarded to an Oxford-based company called Sense Biodetection to develop an instrument-free molecular diagnostic test for influenza and RSV (respiratory syncytial virus), and the Leeds-based SME Arterius for developing bioresorbable stents for treating patients with severe PAD (peripheral arterial disease). The Biomedical Catalyst fits in a series of funding opportunities released by organisations such as the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) or the National Institute of Health Research (NIHR).
If your business is part of this innovation wave and has an innovative healthcare solution, we can support you in the application process for the upcoming Biomedical catalyst 2021: early and late stage awards closing on 26th of August. Get in touch here to discuss your project with us.
By Coralie Hassanaly, Innovation Consultant at DRIAD