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UK opens 'photonics for healthcare' funding competition

11 Mar 2013

£3.7 million earmarked for ‘business-led’ partnerships.

The UK’s Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) has launched a new funding competition focused on the application of photonics in healthcare, with Minister for Universities and Science David Willetts set to announce at the Innovate UK show in London that up to £3.7 million will be invested.

The funding, which will be made via two different types of project, is aimed at encouraging the formation of new “business-led” partnerships between academia, industry and health providers, to validate and highlight new applications of photonics technologies in the sector.

It is hoped that the nature of the funding will help to foster a closer interaction between photonics technology developers and healthcare practitioners – something previously identified by as something of a weakness by the UK’s Technology Strategy Board (TSB).

The funding comes from a £50 million pot made available to the technology areas that were not selected to be one of seven “Catapult” centers. Last March, the TSB told optics.org that photonics would share in that pot, through a research and development support program worth £10 million over three years.

At the time, the TSB’s director of innovations David Bott described a “disconnect” between technology developers, with many in the photonics community feeling unable to gain access to those developing applications – something that the new healthcare competition has clearly been set up to address.

The investment will be administered by the TSB, and run in two strands. The first strand is a single-stage competition for pre-industrial feasibility studies. Applications should include at least one small or medium-sized enterprise (SME), for projects that last between six and twelve months. £1.5 million will be allocated to this strand, with individual project awards of up to £100,000 available.

“Projects will be encouraged to secure early end‐user (industry or clinics) involvement, in order to incorporate their needs and requirements from the beginning and to prepare for subsequent steps of development,” says the TSB.

SME involvement essential
The second strand will allocate a total £2.2 million to collaborative research and development work, with projects again requiring at least one SME. These projects will last between 12 and 24 months, with individual awards of up to £750,000 available for projects conducting industrial research to demonstrate and validate photonic methods or tools for which the proof-of-principle has already been demonstrated.

“In all cases, resultant demonstrators will be tested and validated in an environment close to the application (e.g. clinical environment or point of care) within the term of the project,” says the TSB. “Projects may be up to 24 months long and with maximum eligible costs per project of up to £750,000 attracting up to 60% funding.” As with the “feasibility” strand, each project will contain at least one SME partner.

Commenting on the competition, TSB chief executive Iain Gray said: “This is an important announcement for the UK biophotonics industry, particularly because of the collaborative nature of the competition, which will stimulate innovation and new cross-sector, industry-led collaborations across all tiers of the supply chain in photonics for health.

“The involvement of clinical and industrial end-users in both the feasibility studies and R&D stages of the competition will help ensure not just that the NHS and clinicians fully understand the potential of next-generation photonics technologies, but that they can bring their expertise to bear in the development of a range of new tools for less invasive diagnosis and surgery.”

The types of projects likely to be funded under the scheme will largely be either diagnostic or therapeutic in nature. They could include include phototherapy for dermatological conditions or photodynamic therapy, cancer imaging, or laser procedures in ophthalmology, endovascular surgery or gastro-intestinal surgery.

But other projects outside of the therapeutic and diagnostic scope could also be funded, including for example laser manufacturing of stents and catheters, or prosthesis structuring, as well as genomic research and drug discovery, microbiology and light-based sterilization using light sources.

The TSB "photonics for healthcare" competition guidelines can be downloaded here, while a competition briefing will be held both live and via a webinar on March 21. For details, visit the TSB's registration page.

• The TSB has also launched a new £7.5 million funding competition aimed specifically at in vivo imaging applications, with registrations due to close on May 15.

SPECTROGON ABFirst Light ImagingHÜBNER PhotonicsBerkeley Nucleonics CorporationABTechHyperion OpticsLaCroix Precision Optics
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