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Funding Innovative Solutions for Better Health Outcomes

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Last week saw the NHS England funded initiative, Small Business Research Initiative for Healthcare (SBRI Healthcare), announce a record 44 companies will share £12.7million development funding.

We spoke to Karen Livingstone, Director of Partnerships & Industry Engagement at Eastern Academic Health Science Network, to learn more about SBRI Healthcare and the projects they have funded. 

AB: Can you tell me a little about SBRI Healthcare?

Karen Livingstone (KL): The Small Business Research Initiative for Healthcare (SBRI Healthcare) is an NHS England initiative, championed by the newly formed Academic Health Science Networks (AHSNs), who aim to promote UK economic growth whilst addressing unmet health needs and enhancing the take up of known best practice.

Part of Innovation Health and Wealth the SBRI Healthcare programme sets industry the challenge in a series of health related competitions which result in fully funded development contracts between the awarded company and the NHS. Unlike many R&D projects which offer grant or match funding, SBRI contracts are 100 per cent funded and set the company contracted milestones. While the NHS has the right to license the resultant technology, its intellectual property (IP) remains with the company.

With the latest round of funding, the NHS has backed the SBRI programme with ~£20m invested since the programme started in 2009. This has supported nearly 70 companies to develop innovative technologies that match the needs of the health service. A number of these are now selling into global markets bringing value to the UK economy and delivering innovation to the healthcare community. Previous SBRI Healthcare competitions have called for technological and innovative solutions to, for example, change people’s behaviour in order to reduce the impact of obesity and alcohol related diseases, how to live well with dementia and improved medicines management.

AB: What are the criteria for projects to receive funding?

KL: The SBRI Healthcare scheme is particularly suited to small and medium-sized businesses as an opportunity for new companies to engage in public sector pre-procurement. But SBRI Healthcare is run along EU procurement rules, so all companies registered within the EU are eligible to enter. Competitions are open to organisations from the private, public and third sectors, including charities. Focusing on different healthcare challenges, successful projects from each ‘themed’ competition are selected primarily on their potential value to the health service, patient benefit and the opportunity to back thriving businesses. 

The competition theme areas are chosen in partnership with the newly designated Academic Health Science Networks (AHSNs) across England. The programme management is led by the Eastern Academic Health Science Network (EAHSN) on behalf of NHS England and other AHSNs. Health Enterprise East is the management partner and supports the EAHSN to handle the applications, assessments and delivery against contracts.

AB: Is there a typical stage of the development process at which SBRI Healthcare award funding?

KL: Up until now, the SBRI programme has typically taken a two-phased development approach; projects start with initial feasibility and can then move on to more detailed product development. Phase 1 contracts for feasibility testing are valued at up to £100,000 and last for six months. Phase 2 contracts for prototype development are worth up to £1 million over 12 months. This latest round of competitions included the first example in the country of Phase 3 SBRI funding intended to accelerate product adoption, with eight companies awarded up to £1m each over 12 months to evaluate and validate their SBRI Healthcare backed products in NHS settings. 

AB: Can you tell us about some of the companies you have awarded funding and what this has enabled?

KL: In the 2013/14 financial year SBRI Healthcare has funded 43 Phase 1 contracts, 8 Phase 2 and 8 Phase 3.  All the company project outlines are available at www.sbrihealthcare.co.uk

Each of the following companies has recently been awarded Phase 3 SBRI Healthcare funding intended to accelerate product adoption; to evaluate and validate products in NHS settings and grow successful businesses: 

  • Aseptika: Pre- commercialisation of an integrated self-management solution with on-ward and at home sputum test platform for patients with long-term respiratory conditions suffering from chronic infection with Pseudomonas aeruginosa
  • Just Checking: Maximising patient independence and improvements in care and care delivery for people with learning disabilities using technology to monitor activity patterns
  • OBS Medical: Piloting Visensia Mobile, to improve patient safety and outcomes through the early detection of patient deterioration and instability with continuous multi-dimensional monitoring in the form of a single index (VSI)
  • PolyPhotonix: Developing a Sleep Mask for the prevention and treatment of Diabetic Retinopathy; a home-based, primary care, non-invasive, monitored therapy, and will be delivered at a fraction of the current treatment cost
  • Halliday James: Piloting AUTO-MOTIVE which uses sensors to measure a range of activities such as walking, sleeping, travelling and socialising. Changes in the pattern of these activities have been shown to indicate a change in mood which could be due to the start of a manic or depressive episode in Bipolar Disorder
  • Rapid Rhythm: Economic validation and accelerated adoption of a rapid one-step ECG handset device to replace traditional 12 Lead ECG for use in Primary Care, Acute and Hyper Acute Care.
  • Veraz: Trial and adoption of the Green Badge System, a suite of technologies for monitoring and improving hand hygiene compliance in healthcare
  • Fuel 3D Technologies: Specialist clinician-led modification and validation of the existing Eykona Wound Measurement System to produce a general medical imaging system increasing the therapy applications for wider adoption in the NHS and international healthcare markets

Karen Livingstone was speaking to Ashley Board, Managing Editor for Technology Networks. You can find Ashley on  and follow Technology Networks on Twitter.