UK government invests £30m in emerging medtech companies and projects

21 November 2014

 Innovate UK and the UK Medical Research Council (MRC) announce awards totalling over £30m in companies and projects developing new medical treatments and technologies. The money is being delivered through rounds five and six of the BioMedical Catalyst (BMC), part of the Government’s Life Sciences Strategy.

29 companies and universities from across the UK now have the funding to further develop new medicines, diagnostics or devices to tackle healthcare challenges ranging from cancer to childbirth complications. Projects supported include:

  • ‘pH paper’ to prevent fatality through incorrect placement of feeding tubes (Edinburgh);
  • Ozone-based device to decontaminate medical equipment (Glasgow);
  • Dressings with embedded clotting agents which can be left in the body (Leeds);
  • A bio-engineered ‘scaffold’ to repair injured tendons (Manchester);
  • Novel drugs to reduce swelling and pain caused by rheumatoid arthritis (London);
  • Headband-mounted heart rate sensor to help resuscitate newborn babies (Derby);
  • New gene therapy to tackle nerve and muscle degeneration of the fatal Huntington’s Disease (Oxford);
  • A revolutionary ‘Gamma Camera’ to help diagnose and treat more cancers (Camberley, Surrey);
  • Cell therapy to repair liver damage (Edinburgh);
  • A drug that protects vital organs from damage following a heart attack (Cambridge).

This announcement builds on the 23 separate feasibility awards totalling over £3 million, made earlier in 2014, and brings the BMC’s total investment since opening in 2012 to over £200 million. In that time it has supported innovation from some 250 small and medium companies and universities, and attracted an additional £100 million in private investment.

Minister for Life Sciences George Freeman said, “These investments demonstrate just how many businesses and universities across the country are developing life-saving treatments while adding real value and vitality to their regional economies. With Innovate UK and the Medical Research Council, we are helping ensure this industry has a global reach built on solid local success.”

The Biomedical Catalyst was set up jointly by Innovate UK and the MRC to offer funding for development of innovative ideas that could save lives, improve treatment for patients and also provide significant UK economic impact.

Any UK small or medium-sized business or academic undertaking research and development may apply to the BMC on a rolling basis, with applications assessed by independent experts.

Iain Gray, Chief Executive of Innovate UK said: “The Biomedical Catalyst has been successful not just in supporting individual healthcare innovations but also attracting additional investment from the private sector. These companies we’re supporting via the BMC are all developing innovations with the potential to transform healthcare and achieve commercial success. We’re proud to be supporting them on that journey from healthcare concept through to availability in the marketplace.”

Dr Jim Smith, Deputy Chief Executive of the MRC added: “The Biomedical Catalyst is a unique funding stream that is intended to maximise the impact of our great British research base. Supporting productive relationships between academics and industry will help discoveries to progress seamlessly from the lab to the clinic, meaning new treatments and innovations can reach patients as soon as possible.”

Further information on Innovate UK funding:

Case Studies of projects funded

Revolutionary pain-busting treatment to reduce swelling in rheumatoid arthritis
Lead organisation: Modern Biosciences, London
(BMC grant: £2,400,000)
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic, painful condition. Unfortunately, current drugs do not work in all patients, are often poorly tolerated and are expensive. MBS has developed a new class of drugs that not only reduce inflammation and pain, but may enable bone to start repairing itself, thus reversing the crippling effect of RA on joints. This would offer unique respite to patients compared with existing drug therapies.

Synthetic bone-graft substitute, revolutionising treatment of severe bone fractures
Lead organisation: Sirakoss Ltd, Edinburgh
(BMC grant £939,895)
Every day worldwide, thousands of patients undergo surgery to fuse bone together. This surgery is often the result of a trauma event where the bone has failed to heal, a congenital skeletal defect or a degenerative disease of the spine (a condition that is growing rapidly with an aging global population). SIRAKOSS has developed MaxSi™ Graft a synthetic bone graft substitute (sBGS) which will revolutionise the treatment of bone defects and fusions. This unique technology not only removes any need to take bone from another part of the patient’s body, an often painful or debilitating process, it also offers a rapid, controllable and affordable alternative to other treatments. The project will enable pre-clinical studies and progress towards full clinical use.

Headband-mounted heart rate sensor to help resuscitate newborn babies
Lead organisation: HeartLight Systems, Derby:
(BMC grant: £1,415,727)
Around 10% of newborn babies need resuscitation. Their heart rate needs to be monitored to check that resuscitation is working, but this means interrupting the procedure to apply a stethoscope. There can also be errors in stethoscope readings. ‘Heartlight’ platform technology can accurately read a baby’s heartbeat through a sensor mounted in a band placed carefully around the baby’s forehead. The company plans to replace the stethoscope with Heartlight so that clinicians can monitor heart rate and resuscitate simultaneously. This will reduce delays and also longer-term health risks for babies requiring resuscitation.

‘Gamma’ cameras to improve cancer diagnosis, treatment and subsequent recovery
Lead organisation: Xtrahl Ltd, Surrey
(BMC grant: £668,126)
This project will develop a unique Compact Gamma Camera (CGC) able to greatly improve the diagnosis and surgery of patients suffering from cancers such as breast cancer and melanoma. This will be achieved by decreasing recovery time following surgery due to damaging less tissue and nerve masses. The CGC would improve Sentinel Lymph Node Biopsy (SLNB) detection accuracy to 99.5% while providing cancer diagnosis, surgery planning and imaging at 60% less cost than the current best-in-class gamma cameras. It also has the potential to deliver healthcare savings of £650 million each year in targeted markets.

Dressings with embedded clotting agents which can be left in the body
Lead organisations: Xiros (Leeds) and Haemostatix (Nottingham)
(BMC grant: £767,186)
The invention integrates a haemostat (clotting agent) into fibres made from a material which can also clot blood. These are formed into dressings designed to stop bleeding quickly. In this way, three modes of action combine to produce an easily used and highly effective product for surgery, A&E or the battlefield. The dressings can be biologically absorbed so can be left in the body if necessary in complete safety. This project uses wet-spinning technology developed at Leeds-based Xiros Ltd, and a synthetic clotting agent from Haemostatix Ltd, located in Nottingham.

‘pH paper’ to prevent fatality through incorrect placement of feeding tubes
Lead organisation: Ingenza, Edinburgh
(BMC grant: £829,336)
Patients unable to feed themselves are frequently provided with a feeding tube via the nose and into the stomach for nutritional and medication support. Inadvertent placement of the tube outside the stomach, notably in the lung, in extreme cases can lead to fatality. This collaboration will produce and test a device for use in bedside placement checks that addresses and potentially overcomes a persistent shortcoming of the current pH based test in widespread use, by incorporating the measurement of a stomach enzyme in addition to stomach acid, to verify correct tube placement.

Targeting mutant cancers
Lead organisation: PhoreMost Ltd, Cambridge
(BMC grant: £1,386, 133)
PhoreMost has developed a new technology called ‘Protein interference’ that can systematically identify the best new targets for tackling highly complex diseases, such as cancer. With this grant, PhoreMost will be optimising the potency and selectivity of a promising new class of drug candidate for pancreatic cancer, which represents the 4th most common cause of cancer deaths world-wide, but where no effective therapy currently exists.

Other awards to companies based in: Glasgow, Swansea, Oxford, Manchester, Bromsgrove and Welwyn Garden City

Academic-led Case Studies (MRC)

Cell therapy to ‘rebuild’ the damaged liver
(BMC grant: £3,065,647)
Lead organisation: University of Edinburgh
Scientists from the MRC Centre for Regenerative Medicine, at the University of Edinburgh, have been awarded an initial £2m to carry out the world’s first clinical trial using a new type of cell therapy to treat liver cirrhosis. Accounting for around 4,000 UK deaths a year and huge costs for the NHS, liver cirrhosis is a common disease where scar tissue forms in the organ as a result of long-term damage.

This damage can be inflicted by many causes including hepatitis, obesity, alcohol abuse and some genetic and immune conditions. The only successful treatment for the end-stage liver disease is an organ transplant, but this is severely limited by a lack of available donors and risks of rejection. Many people die each year waiting for an organ to become available. Now researchers are hoping to reduce the need for transplantation by developing a new treatment for cirrhosis that exploits the liver’s natural ability to repair itself.

The therapy is based on a type of white blood cell called the macrophage. During the normal repair process, macrophages reduce scar tissue and stimulate the liver’s own stem cells to expand and form into healthy new liver cells. Scientists will take cells from the blood of patients with liver cirrhosis and turn them into macrophages in the lab using chemical signals. These new cells will then be re-injected into the patient with the aims of reducing scarring and helping to rebuild the damaged organ from within.

Bio-engineered scaffold to repair injured tendons
(BMC grant £1,224,836)
Lead organisation: University of Manchester
Researchers at the University of Manchester have invented a medical device that could improve the outcome of tendon surgery in thousands of patients every year. Tendon injuries are repaired by surgery, but this leads to the formation of scar tissue, which is not as strong or flexible as natural tendon tissue. As a result, around a third of patients still have problems with their tendon after treatment. The team at Manchester has employed bioengineering techniques to develop a new type of electrospun scaffold that can be used for tendon repair via keyhole surgery. As the tendon begins to heal, force is distributed across different parts of the scaffold so that physiotherapy can begin earlier and scar tissue formation is reduced. Previous MRC translational funding allowed the device to be developed and tested in rats, and now the group will go on to use £1.2m Biomedical Catalyst funding to evaluate the approach in larger animals, laying the groundwork for human testing.

Paving the way for gene therapy in Huntington's disease
(BMC grant: £1,014,576)
Lead organisation: University of Oxford
Scientists at the University of Oxford have been awarded £1m to tackle the challenge of delivering gene therapy to Huntington’s disease patients. Huntington’s is a devastating disorder caused by mutations in a single gene, which result in production of a toxic protein. This protein accumulates in the brain, resulting in the progressive degeneration of nerve and muscle cells leading to death, on average within 25 years of diagnosis.

Around one in 10,000 people is affected by the condition, for which there is currently no cure. One potential avenue for treating the disease is via gene therapy, which would target the mutated gene and suppress production of the toxic protein. However, the affected brain tissue is separated from the circulating blood supply, making it difficult to target with drugs. The Oxford researchers hope to employ exosomes, a naturally occurring cell transport process, to deliver the therapy directly to the brain. They will test their approach in a mouse model of the disease in the hope of proving that this could be a mechanism to deliver human therapy.

New drug could protect vital organs from damage following heart attack
(BMC grant: £799,326)
Lead organisation: MRC Mitochondrial Biology Unit
Dr Mike Murphy from the MRC Mitochondrial Biology Unit and colleagues Dr Thomas Krieg (University of Cambridge) and Professor Raimondo Ascione (University of Bristol) will build on previous MRC funding to develop an experimental compound into a drug that could protect the vital organs from damage following a heart attack.

Tests in mice have shown that the compound, called MitoSNO, protects heart tissue from reperfusion injury, which occurs when the blood supply to an organ is interrupted, for example by a blood clot. If the blood supply is restored the tissue can recover, but the sudden return of oxygen-rich blood leads to extensive tissue damage that worsens the long-term prognosis for the patient.

All of the 100,000 people a year in the UK who suffer a heart attack will experience reperfusion injury, which is caused by the production of harmful molecules, called free radicals, by the heart cells. MitoSNO blocks the production of these free radicals, therefore protecting the tissue from damage. Early tests have shown that the compound is effective in mice, and the researchers will now fine-tune production of a drug that can be tested in pigs, before moving onto early human trials.


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