The government has announced a £93.2-million package of support for the UK's health sector in a series of measures designed to help position the country as a world leader in innovation.

First up, £25.9 million is being streamed into round three of the Biomedical Catalyst - set up to help companies overcome the so-called ‘valley of death’ between the discovery of medical innovations and their commercialisation - from which 29 companies and five universities will receive an investment.

Projects in the current round include clinical trials to ‘repurpose’ a cancer drug that could be used to treat rheumatoid arthritis and an implant to reduce pain and restore mobility to knee cartilage injuries.

Elsewhere, Universities and Science Minister David Willetts also announced the establishment of a new £38 million National Biologics Manufacturing Centre to be based in Darlington.

It is envisaged that the centre, which is being funded by the cash pot set aside for the Life Sciences Strategy, will become a national base for manufacturing biological medicines such as antibodies and vaccines, thus significantly upscaling its capabilities.

And last but not least, a further £29.3 million of investment will come from three Technology Strategy Board led funding competitions: £7.3 million for four companies looking to develop personalised approaches to healthcare; £5.6 million for five business-led collaborative projects looking to develop new diagnostic tests for tuberculosis; and £8.4 million for seven companies and business-led consortiums exploring healthcare solutions in regenerative medicine and cell therapy. 

SBRI funding

Meanwhile, three UK companies have also been handed cash grants under a different Department of Health initiative, the SBRI Healthcare programme, which is designed to help companies develop innovative solutions that address unmet health needs.

From five companies awarded Phase I funding in October last year, three have demonstrated best value and greatest technical feasibility in the SBRI Medicines Management competition, which seeks to increase the number of patients taking their medicines properly and cut down on waste. 

As such, at a typical cost of £250,000 to £1million each, the successful companies will be supported and fully funded to take their technologies through to commercialisation and procurement, the group said.

The successful projects are: a new bolus drug delivery device using novel delivery technology that is simple and easy-to-use and will bring cost savings to the NHS (Bespak Europe); a simple novel device that enables rapid and easy treatment of hypoglycaemia in child diabetes, which currently results in at least 15,000 hospital admissions each year in England (Therakind); and a patient-centred self-management and self-care platform with web and mobile apps that help people with Parkinson's Disease to track and manage their condition (UMotif).

Fuelling progress

A spokesperson for UMotif told PharmaTimes that the SBRI funding "is critical to the development of our products and supporting robust trials to gather evidence of clinical impact".

The group is using the Phase II funding to build out its technology platform and run a 300 patient multi-centre trial across the UK with a focus on medication adherence and patient quality of life.

Susan Conroy, chief executive of Therakind, told PharmaTimes that the nasal delivery device the firm is developing "should offer an optimum combination of low cost, increased patient acceptability and the potential for improved outcomes, both clinical and economic".

"Receipt of this significant follow up award will enable Therakind to take the product through to proof of concept testing in man within a year," she said, noting that "without SBRI funding this programme would undoubtedly take longer to bring to fruition".