Medical breakthroughs on the horizon with a UK research boost of £32m

Since 2011 there has been a total investment of £350m, split equally between the MRC, Innovate UK and leveraged funding from industry

New treatments, diagnostics and medical technologies are set to benefit from a Biomedical Catalyst (BMC) investment of £32m. The seventh funding round of the BMC, a partnership between the Medical Research Council (MRC) and Innovate UK, which is now in its third year, will support 38 awards in universities and companies across the UK that have the potential to transform the lives of patients with a range of conditions.

This includes 20 MRC Confidence in Concept awards to universities to support a portfolio of early stage translational projects.

BMC grants are available to UK academics and small to medium-sized businesses seeking to take their research from discovery through to commercialisation to deliver patient benefit. Since 2011, when it was set up, there has been a total investment of £350m, split equally between the MRC, Innovate UK and leveraged funding from industry.

Among the projects supported in this round are:

  • The first in-human trial of a drug that targets one of the defects in the brain linked to schizophrenia. More than £3.2m will support a collaboration between three universities and Autifony Therapeutics to gain insight into how the drug works before larger studies are done.
  • Researchers at UCL will receive £1.6m to develop a home testing kit for bladder cancer in people with blood in the urine, potentially sparing patients the discomfort of a cystoscopy.
  • The common cold can increase the risk of an asthma attack. Scientists at Imperial College London will receive £1.3m to tackle this by trialling a new drug that minimises the inflammation caused by colds that can lead to an asthma attack.
  • University of Leicester scientists have been awarded almost £2m to develop and trial a gel to minimise post-operation scarring containing salbutamol, a commonly used asthma drug.
  • Retinopathy — damage to blood vessels at the back of the eye — is a serious and common complication of diabetes that can lead to blindness. The company KalVista has been awarded £2.4m to develop an oral drug that builds on its previous work, which found that this damage is caused by a protein called plasma kallikrein that causes blood vessels to become leaky.
  • Using the movement sensor from a games console could improve brain imaging to diagnose and monitor people with dementia. Many imaging techniques are limited by even the slightest movement of patients and researchers at Imperial College hope that combining PET imaging with the movement sensor could overcome this.

‘Getting an idea to market is one of the hardest challenges any entrepreneur or small business will face when trying to turn their innovative ideas into a reality,' said Greg Clark, Minister for Universities, Science and Cities. 'The Biomedical Catalyst is giving a real lifeline to research and projects that will help improve or save countless lives.’

Dr Chris Watkins, Director of Translational Research and Industry at the MRC, said: 'Biomedical Catalyst funding is all about supporting exciting ideas and excellent science to accelerate the speed with which innovative projects can reach the marketplace and then go on to deliver real benefit for patients.’

Zahid Latif, Head of Health and Care at Innovate UK, added: ‘The UK’s life sciences industry is behind some of the most exciting discoveries and new healthcare products of the moment and the Biomedical Catalyst programme will help that to continue.’

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