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Access to clinical and academic health research capabilities


Browsing research carried out or sponsored by research councils

There are four research councils where health is a major component of their remit:

Medical Research Council (MRC)

This Council is predominantly responsible for clinical research in the UK, and covers mostly pharmaceuticals but with a growing interest in diagnostics. There is a large cohort of clinical researchers through the MRC and through MRC funded Centres.

Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC)

This Council, as its name implies, operates within the biological area. Hence it is relevant for companies operating in biologics or stem cells related to regenerative medicine. There is a Biotechnology Research Industry Club (BRIC) supported by the Healthtech and Medicines KTN which has been building bioprocessing capability in the UK.

Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC)

This research council has historically delivered research to inform government policy, but is increasingly addressing issues of relevance to medtech, including health economics and new business models. Researchers can be accessed that have strong social or business backgrounds to support medtech companies.

Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC)

This is the main home for medical devices and diagnostics businesses as its focus is the building block to many of the technologies used in Medtech / Healthtech.

Many universities operate in the medtech sector, so to find partners you are recommended to contact the KTN who will have many direct contacts with key research groups and also go through the EPSRC website which has a good search engine to find existing and past research grants.

More information about the different initiatives led by the EPSRC is detailed in next section.


Access centres of excellence sponsored by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC)


Innovative Manufacturing Research Centres (IMRCs)

Innovative Manufacturing Research Centres (IMRCs) are funded by the EPSRC to support highly innovative research under the broad heading of ‘value-added manufacturing’, with a strong drive to respond to industry needs. They have flexibility in the allocation of new projects, under the specific scope and goals of the individual centre. They increasingly have a core grant which is added to with other responsive mode (EPSRC) and managed programmes (EPSRC, TSB, Other) in response to new research directions and industry lead.

IMRCs related to the Health technologies are as follows:

New Centres are being established, under the name of ‘EPSRC Centres for Innovative Manufacturing’.

Innovation and Knowledge Centres (IKCs)

Innovation and Knowledge Centres (IKCs) are centres of excellence to accelerate and promote business exploitation of an emerging research and technology field. They differ from IMRCs by working much closer to the highest technology readiness level, that is, they are developing technologies close to their early commercialisation stage. Their key feature is a shared space and entrepreneurial environment, in which researchers, potential customers and skilled professionals from both academia and business can work side by side to scope applications, business models and routes to market.

IKCs with expertise of relevance to Healthtech are:


Access to centres of excellence sponsored by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR)


Through its own research and development the NHS NIHR works to develop evidence to inform and underpin health and social care policy and to commission research focused on the needs of patients and the public. Two relevant references are deemed to be:

  • ‘Best research for best health’[1] (2009) sets out the previous Government’s goals for research and development in the NHS over the next five year, in particular the key NHS priorities and new structures.
  • ‘Science and Innovation Strategy 2006’[2] the health research strategy to face long-term challenges for UK science and innovation.

The National Institute for Health Research (NIHR)

The NIHR provides the framework through which the Department of Health maintains and manages its research and also includes the Invention for Innovation programme (i4i), part of which is open to businesses.

The various roles of the NIHR with regards to NHS innovation activities are shown below in Figure 14:


Access to centres of excellence sponsored by the Technology Strategy Board


During 2012, the TSB stimulated a new model of support to specific sectors and technologies to fill the gap of business savvy R&D capability, operating in the TRL 4-6 range. These are called Catapults and are similar (but different) to the infrastructure of Fraunhofer in Germany and TNO in the Netherlands.

In the life sciences space there is one Catapult for Cell Therapies. This may not be central to healthtech, but the Cell Therapy Catapult will include tissue engineering and models and tools to support the broad field of regenerative and biological therapies.

The Catapult has only recently been launched (Spring 2012), is based at Guys and St Thomas’s Hospital, with further information available shortly.

A separate Catapult for High Value Manufacturing is also up and running, but currently has limited capability for medical engineering.


Figure 14 Various roles of the NIHR with regards to NHS innovation activities
(© NIHR, 2009
[3]) - Reproduced by permission National Institute for Health Research.

More information is presented below regarding some of the NIHR-sponsored centres of excellence, providing a Platform for the industry to access relevant research resources: Biomedical Research Centres; Biomedical Research Units; Collaboration for Leadership in Applied Health Research and Care; and others.

In particular, Biomedical Research Centres and Units have links with other research specialties across their host institutions and can provide access to expertise in areas such as engineering, to support prototype development and refinement.

Biomedical Research Centres

The NIHR has created twelve Biomedical Research Centres within leading NHS and University partnerships to drive progress on innovation and translational research in biomedicine. The Centres receive substantial levels of funding to translate fundamental biomedical research into clinical research that benefits patients and they will be early adopters of new insights in technologies, techniques and treatments for improving health.

The Centres were selected through open competition and fall within either a comprehensive (open area) or specialist theme. Those deemed relevant to medtech are as presented in Table 3 and 4, below:

Table 3 ‘Comprehensive’ Biomedical Research Centres

NHS Organisation

Academic Partner

Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust

University of Cambridge

Guy's and St Thomas' NHS Foundation Trust

King's College London

Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust

Imperial College London

Oxford Radcliffe Hospitals NHS Trust

University of Oxford

University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust

University College London







Table 4 ‘Specialist’ Biomedical Research Centres

NHS Organisation

Academic Partner


Great Ormond Street Hospital

for Children NHS Trust

UCL Institute of Child Health

Paediatric/Child Health

Moorfields Eye Hospital

NHS Foundation Trust

UCL Institute of Ophthalmology


Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Trust

Newcastle University


Royal Liverpool and Broadgreen University Hospitals NHS Trust

University of Liverpool

Microbial Diseases







Biomedical Research Units (BRUs)

The NIHR has established sixteen Biomedical Research Units to undertake translational clinical research in the following priority areas of high disease burden and clinical need that are currently under-represented in the existing NIHR Biomedical Research Centres:

  • Cardiovascular Disease (matches a KTN Group)
  • Deafness and Hearing Problems
  • Gastrointestinal (including liver, peptic ulcers and dyspepsia) Disease
  • Musculoskeletal Disease (matches the orthopaedics KTN Group)
  • Nutrition, Diet and Lifestyle (including obesity and blood pressure)
  • Respiratory Disease
  • Infection (including Clostridium difficile and Hepatitis C) (matches the HCAI KTN Group and the Detection and Identification of Infectious Agents (DIIA) Special Interest group
  • Pancreatic Disease

Each NIHR Biomedical Research Unit is a partnership between an NHS Trust and a university, which enable health researchers and clinicians to work together.

Collaboration for Leadership in Applied Health Research and Care (CLAHRCs)

Nine NIHR Collaborations for Leadership in Applied Health Research and Care (CLAHRCs) were established in October 2008 to undertake high-quality applied health research focused on the needs of patients and to support the translation of research evidence into practice in the NHS.

CLAHRCs are collaborative partnerships between a university and the surrounding NHS organisations, focused on improving patient outcomes through the conduct and application of applied health research. The details of location and partners for the nine NIHR CLAHRCs are given in Table 5, below.

CLAHRCs share the same vision: a healthcare community where continuous innovation and improvement is the norm and staff and patients are empowered to design, influence and implement change.

Table 5 Locations of the different UK CLAHRCs and names of the consortium partners

Name of CLAHRC

Lead NHS Organisation

Academic Partner(s)

NIHR CLAHRC for Birmingham and Black Country

University Hospital Birmingham
NHS Foundation Trust

University of Birmingham

NIHR CLAHRC for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough

Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Mental Health Partnership NHS Trust

University of Cambridge

NIHR CLAHRC for Greater Manchester

Salford Teaching Primary Care Trust

University of Manchester

NIHR CLAHRC for Leeds, York and Bradford

Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust

University of Leeds
University of York

NIHR CLAHRC for Leicestershire, Northamptonshire and Rutland 

University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust

University of Leicester

NIHR CLAHRC for North West London

Chelsea and Westminster NHS Foundation Trust

Imperial College London

NIHR CLAHRC for Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire and Lincolnshire

Nottinghamshire Healthcare NHS Trust

University of Nottingham

NIHR CLAHRC for South West Peninsula

NHS South West

University of Exeter & University of Plymouth
Peninsula Medical School

NIHR CLAHRC for South Yorkshire

Sheffield Teaching Hospitals
NHS Foundation Trust

University of Sheffield & Sheffield Hallam University


Healthcare Technology Co-operatives (HTCs)

Pilot Healthcare Technology Co-operatives involve NHS, academia and industry working closely together to develop clinically needed, cost-effective health technology products in priority areas deemed neglected or with high disease burden.

  • The BioMed HTC based in Bristol was set up in April 2005. Its purpose is to accelerate the development and adoption of new technologies, treatments and devices for patients with urinary incontinence. The end date of the project was initially defined as 31 of December 2010.
  • Enteric, the Bowel Function HTC, based at Barts and The London NHS Trust and School of Medicine and Dentistry in the East End of London was set up in 2008 and aims to address unmet clinical needs in the diagnosis and treatment of disorders of the bowel through the co-operative development and implementation of new non-pharmaceutical treatments and technologies.
  • The Devices for Dignity HTC (D4D) was set up in 2008 and is based in Sheffield. It aims to speed up the process from idea to market in three key areas: assistive technologies, urinary continence management and renal technologies.

Health Innovation and Education Clusters (HIECs)

HIECs are further partnerships between the NHS, universities and to an extent, industry which again support innovation but with an emphasis on education and training of NHS workforce. Seventeen clusters were formed, which appear to cluster around regional boundaries.

Academic Health Science Centres (AHSCs)

These centres, launched in 2009, are recognised partnerships between world-class Universities and leading NHS organisations, with a remit to compete globally with established centres such as those in the United States, Canada, Singapore, Sweden and the Netherlands. The aim is to raise the UK profile through specific centres, enabling them to draw in talent and funding which provides overall benefit to the UK.

Five centres have been recognised to date, these are:

  • Cambridge University Health Partners
  • Imperial College
  • King’s Health Partners
  • Manchester AHSC
  • UCL Partners


Academic Health Science Networks (AHSNs)

December 2011 saw the announcement of this new infrastructure operating at a local level to help develop a local resource to champion innovation, adoption and early diffusion at a local level. These should provide an excellent resource for business engagement with the NHS, but it is early days and Trusts are currently bidding in to form such Networks (summer 2012). Further details will follow.