Funding competition Creating a network of digital pathology, imaging and AI centres

Up to £50 million is available to establish centres of excellence in digital pathology and/or medical imaging with artificial intelligence (AI).

This competition is now closed.

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Competition sections


As part of the delivery of the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund (ISCF) in data to early diagnosis and precision medicine, Innovate UK, as part of UK Research and Innovation will invest up to £50 million. This is to establish a network of 5 to 6 centres of excellence, across the UK, in digital pathology and/or medical imaging, including radiology. The centres must use digital systems and artificial intelligence (AI) to improve diagnosis and deliver precision treatments.

As radiology and medical imaging is already digitised, bids in this area should look for significant added value from digital systems, enhanced analytics and AI. Applicants may wish to consider the design, development, evaluation and adoption of clinical decision support systems – evaluating, for example, new patient care pathways and providing clinicians with improved tools that will support precision medicine. These elements can also form part of a digital pathology bid (especially in combination with radiology/imaging).

For both digital pathology and imaging/radiology we are looking to fund consortia with a strong industry focus, with a track record of building partnerships and working with companies.

Funding type


Project size

Up to £50 million. Your programme must start by 1 December 2018 and can last for up to 36 months.

Who can apply

To be eligible for funding you must be:

  • an NHS Trust (or equivalent in the Devolved Administrations)
  • NHS England, NHS Scotland, NHS Wales or Health and Social Care Northern Ireland
  • a hospital
  • an Academic Health Science Network (AHSN)
  • a university or other research organisation
  • a charity
  • a UK based business of any size
  • carry out your programme work in the UK
  • intend to exploit the results for the benefit of the UK

Programmes must be collaborative and at least 2 collaborators must apply for grant.

If your programme’s total costs fall outside of our eligibility criteria, contact us at least 10 days before the competition closes.


We will invest up to £50 million in a network of 5 or 6 centres across the UK. The maximum grant available per application is up to £10 million. This maximum does not increase for multicentre bids.

Of the up to £50 million investment available, we anticipate investing around £30 million in digital pathology and around £20 million in radiology/in-vivo imaging. This will not be absolute as bids may address both. This is encouraged where it makes sense to do so.

For every application, the cost of the programme will be the total of the grant requested and the contribution made by other organisations.

We anticipate that applicants will request a minimum of a £7 million grant and that total programme costs will be between £14 million and £20 million. The maximum programme cost has been set at £60 million, any applications wishing to go above this should contact Innovate UK.

Investment in this competition falls into 3 broad categories:

a) the grant – i.e. ISCF investment from UK Research and Innovation

b) investment from industry

c) investment from organisations such as charities, research organisations and other sources of government funding.

The total grant requested by research organisations (ROs), public sector and charities must be no more than 70% of the programme costs attributed to (a) and (b). Investment into your programme from other organisations, i.e. (c) will be welcomed but is not compulsory.

At least one business in your consortium must not claim grant and will be classed as a non-grant claiming partner. It is envisaged that this will be a large company, or companies, making a significant contribution to the total programme cost, in order to fulfil the 70% requirement highlighted above. These non-grant claiming companies can be subcontracted to for up to £1 million per application, not per company, this must be for work packages outside the ones in which they are investing and must be detailed on the application form. There may be exceptional circumstances where organisations receiving grant can subcontract to other organisations in addition to the non-grant claiming partners. In these circumstances we would need a full explanation as to why this option has been chosen over claiming the costs within the relevant partner organisation’s own application. Subcontract services supplied by partner companies should exclude any profit element and be charged at cost. Where a partner is also a subcontractor within a project, it is important that a company in receipt of the project funding stays within state aid limits.

The cap of £1 million for subcontracting is for the non-grant claiming companies, consortia can go above this in order to deliver the best programme of activity in line with the aims of the competition.

In addition to the non-grant claiming business or businesses, other businesses can be part of consortia and can claim grant. The level of funding will be dependent upon the size of the company and category of research and development (R&D), this is detailed in the project types section.

Please note, in filling out the finance section of your application form, you will not be informed if your calculation is incorrect, and your figures will be accepted by the system, you should contact Innovate UK for discussion if you are uncertain.

Please download the pdf below to view examples of how a programme’s finances could be structured

Your proposal

We are supporting this industrial research activity as part of the ISCF Data to Early Diagnosis and Precision Medicine Challenge. Our aim is to identify, develop and learn new processes, practices, knowledge and skills to develop improved and new products and services. These will benefit academia, healthcare, UK industry and the economy.

Successful centres across the UK in England and the Devolved Administrations, will be expected to work closely within their regional NHS partnerships as well as, where applicable, national infrastructure such as the NHS Digital Transformation Programmes Interoperability, Local Health and Care Record Exemplars (LHCREs) in England and Digital Innovation Hubs (DIHs) across the UK, to develop, define and implement interoperability standards and to commit to the adoption of national standards as these are defined. We will establish a framework and governance structure to enable organisations to work together to deliver:

  1. Data sharing and interoperability between different platforms and imaging systems to support the creation of image repositories, where data from any platform can be compared with each other. Successful centres must commit to support this ‘interoperability’ (ability to work across information systems with no additional effort).
  2. Advanced data storage and analytical environments capable of managing large numbers of digital images and associated data. These should be made available, securely, for AI purposes and other forms of research at scale.
  3. The highest standards of data security, privacy and ethical approval, embedding public trust and engagement into the programme from the outset, in line with that being developed to support the LHCREs and DIHs.

Your application should outline how your consortium will address the above in a way that prevents the creation of silos, enables interoperability and productively shares data across centres.

Each centre should:

  1. Create an environment which supports interactions between research and innovation in industry, health services, and academic research
  2. Ensure the research and innovation activities are linked with regulators and policy makers
  3. Be co-designed and business-friendly, allowing companies appropriate access to quality images and associated data, at all stages of product development
  4. Have strong medical imaging and digital pathology expertise from a medical viewpoint, as well as the computational image analysts, data scientists, AI experts, trials methodologists and statisticians
  5. Be a magnet for industry, with the ambition to create clusters of small and medium sized businesses and high growth companies
  6. Work with other successful centres and relevant infrastructure, including the ISCF Digital Innovation Hub programme, and other UK Research and Innovation initiatives and Charitable sector investment, across the UK, to address data sharing, standardisation, interoperability and scale-up
  7. Provide a clear frame-work for clinical innovation and adoption of emerging research and capabilities
  8. Build on existing UK infrastructure, expertise and relationships across NHS, academic and industry
  9. Carry out at least one significant exemplar research or innovation project to demonstrate the clinical and economic utility of the infrastructure developed
  10. Describe how they will design in to their programme clear quantified benefits to the NHS, in terms of pathway changes, new workforce models and quantified potential productivity benefits that could result from their programme.
  11. Create a vibrant internationally recognised research base where the data generated can be used to develop and evaluate new tools and products
  12. Ensure that the centre lines up with the aims of the ISCF (link here) and the Life Science Industrial Strategy (link here)
  13. Leverage significant funding from industry

Specific themes

We are looking to fund a portfolio of centres across the UK. We will provide a framework for centres to work together. The aim is to maximise the impact of this investment, for the benefit of industry, healthcare providers, patients, researchers and the UK economy. Centres must commit to working with one another, and with the broader UK infrastructure, to address common themes such as:

  • standardisation
  • data sharing
  • interoperability
  • regulation, especially of artificial intelligence
  • scale-up

We are particularly encouraging applications that:

  • will support access by investigators (clinical and non-clinical) outside the proposed centres
  • consider how their proposed centre will support micro, small and medium sized businesses (SMEs)
  • use large scale, well archived and annotated images in their exemplar projects
  • illustrate how the centre will support future links between digital image analyses and other forms of diagnostic information to achieve new medical insights. For example, this can be done by linking data from digital pathology to data from genetics programmes, to create unique and deeply informative datasets
  • consider the social and behavioural science and health economics around adoption and change management

Project types

We anticipate that most projects will be industrial research, although we will fund experimental development

For industrial research projects, you could get funding for your eligible project costs of:

  • up to 70% if you are a micro or small business
  • up to 60% if you are a medium-sized business
  • up to 50% if you are a large business

For experimental development projects which are nearer to market, you could get funding for your eligible project costs of:

  • up to 45% if you are a micro or small business
  • up to 35% if you are a medium-sized business
  • up to 25% if you are a large business

Find out if your business fits the EU definition of an SME.

Activities we will not fund

We will not fund significant building work.

Please contact Innovate UK for advice if your project includes any building work. Some investment in, for example, storage facilities within an existing building, will be allowed, but major building work will not be funded.

Centres which are purely virtual will not be funded, success will come from providing a physical space as well as a framework for multiple stakeholders, including industry, academics and clinicians to work together towards a common goal. Applications taking a multicentre approach will not need to create a designated physical space in every centre.

Programmes that tie the UK into working with a single vendor will not be funded.

6 June 2018
Competition opens
15 June 2018
London briefing event.
2 August 2018 12:00pm
Competition closes
3 September 2018
Invite to interview.
17 September 2018
Interview panel.
18 September 2018
Interview panel.
28 September 2018 5:36pm
Applicants notified

Before you start

Please read the general guidance for applicants. It will help your chances of submitting a quality application.

When you start an application you will be prompted to create an account as the lead applicant or sign in as a representative of your organisation. You will need an account to track the progress of your application.

As the lead applicant you will be responsible for:

  • collecting the information for your application
  • representing your organisation in leading the project if your application is successful

You will be able to invite:

  • colleagues to contribute to the application
  • other organisations to collaborate in the project if your application is successful

Collaborating organisations can be other businesses, research organisations, public sector organisations or charities.


If your application is successful at the written stage you will be invited to attend an interview.

Presentations should be a maximum of 20 minutes in length, with no more than 20 slides (using Microsoft PowerPoint). Please do not include any video or embedded web links. This will be followed by 30 minutes of questions and answers.

You must submit your presentation slides to Innovate UK by the date stated in the email we will send inviting you to an interview. You will not be able to make any changes to the presentation after this date.

Up to 5 people from your project can attend the interview panel. Agree with your consortium who will attend, ideally one person from each organisation, and send us their names by the date stated in the invitation email. Make sure they will be available on all of the published interview dates. We are unable to reschedule slots once allocated.

You will be expected to answer questions based on your application form and the assessor feedback from the written stage.

You will have the opportunity to provide a supplementary written response to the assessor feedback, answering any concerns raised by the assessors. This can be up to 10 A4 pages in a single PDF or Word document. It can include charts or diagrams. This must be submitted to Innovate UK by the date stated in the invitation email.

What we will ask you

The application is split into 3 sections:

  1. Programme details
  2. Application questions
  3. Finances

1. Programme details

Explain your programme. This section is not scored, but we will use it to decide whether the project fits with the scope of the competition. If it doesn’t, it will be immediately rejected.

Application details

The lead applicant must complete this section. Give your project’s title, start date and length. List any organisations you have named as collaborators.

Programme summary

Describe your programme briefly and be clear about what makes it innovative. We use this section to assign experts to assess your application.

Public description

Describe your programme in detail, and in a way that you are happy to see published. Please do not include any commercially sensitive information. If we award your programme funding, we will publish this description. This could happen before you start your programme.

Programme scope

Describe how your programme fits the scope of the competition. If your programme is not in scope it will be immediately rejected and will not be sent for assessment. We will give you feedback on why.

2. Application questions

In this section, answers to these questions are scored by the assessors. Following assessment, you will receive feedback from the assessors for each question.

Your answer to each question can be up to 500 words long. Do not include any URLs in your answers unless we have explicitly requested a link to a video.

Question 1: Need and opportunity

10 points

What is the need and opportunity that your centre (single or multicentre) will address?

You should describe or explain:

  • the main motivation for the centre and what it can provide that is currently unavailable in the UK
  • the needs and opportunities, for research, healthcare and businesses
  • the wider economic, social, environmental, cultural and/or political challenges which are influential in creating the opportunity, such as incoming regulations. Our Horizons tool can help with this

You can submit a single appendix as a PDF no larger than 1MB and up to 2 pages long to support your answer.

Question 2: Existing capability and partnerships

10 points

How will the centre access existing investment and expertise and build on established partnerships to deliver a step change to the UK landscape?

You should illustrate:

  1. That the consortium partners are at the forefront of research and innovation in digital pathology and/or medical imaging and radiology. What are the existing activities and partnerships that underpin the centre proposal? How will research-active NHS partners support innovation within the centre, both in development and implementation?
  2. What critical infrastructure is already in place? For digital pathology, to what extent can the partners demonstrate existing digitisation of pathology workflows? How will this be supported by NHS partners? You should summarise available technology, commitments from partner organisations and describe how you will leverage existing initiatives including, for example, the NHS LHCRE programme, and how you will overcome any barriers.
  3. An existing environment of cross-sector collaboration, with strong relationships between NHS, business and academic consortium members and a track record of support for innovation.

You can submit a single appendix as a PDF no larger than 1MB and up to 2 pages long to support your answer

If your application covers both digital pathology and in-vivo imaging/radiology, you may submit up to 4 pages

Question 3: Data management and infrastructure

30 points

How will the centre ensure that research-ready data are made accessible to support innovative R&D? Centres must demonstrate their ability to collate, integrate, annotate and securely make accessible imaging data at scale. They should have capacity to link with other diverse data sources both within the proposed centre and across the UK, making use of infrastructure in place or in development (for example LHCREs and DIHs). The established data and computational infrastructure must use public APIs and open standards, interfaces and protocols to enable interoperability. Where new standards require development, centres will be expected to work closely with existing and emerging infrastructure, see scope, to develop, define and implement interoperability standards and to commit to the adoption of national standards as these are defined.

You must identify a senior individual within the consortium to lead this work. Funded centres will need to work in partnership under the oversight of a central co-ordinating body as part of the ISCF programme.

Your application should describe:

  • existing expertise and experience in the collation and preparation of clinical data for research and innovation
  • data resources already available to the proposed centre, including details of the current status, quality, accessibility of this data and whether the necessary security and governance requirements are in place, making sure you comply with relevant legislation
  • details of the proposed approach to establishing a secure computational infrastructure with advanced data discoverability tools and supporting a range of research and innovation users within a flexible analytical environment

You must submit a single appendix as a PDF no larger than 1MB and up to 3 pages long (including any diagrams) to support your answer.

Question 4: Added value of the centre

20 points

What approach will you take and how will the centre support innovation?

You should describe or explain:

  • how the proposed centre infrastructure will address the need, challenge or opportunity you’ve identified
  • the unique selling points of your proposed centre and how they address the challenge
  • how the centre will build on the infrastructure and relationships described previously. Describe how the centre infrastructure will enable innovation, drive[PW-UI2] inward investment and generate a vibrant community of businesses supported by strong relationships with the NHS and clinical and academic researchers.
  • the staff, resources, data assets and clinical populations to be provided by NHS partners
  • how the centre will support validation and adoption of new tools in an NHS environment, supporting rapid development, regulatory approvals and product roll-out.
  • your research and development goals, linking to the strengths and experience of the consortium partners.
  • the freedom you have to operate and how you will address IP, both within the consortium and for businesses using the proposed infrastructure
  • how the centre will ensure value for the UK while ensuring the proposed infrastructure is attractive to business?
  • the nature of the outputs you expect from the centre and its activities and how these will help you to target the need, challenge or opportunity identified. You may wish to consider:
- reports
- know-how
- emergence of new companies in the targeted sectors or repositioning of existing companies to take advantage of the centre
- the creation of new accessible data sets
- new process, including new care pathways
- new products or services

You may submit a single appendix as a PDF no larger than 1MB and up to 3 pages long to support your answer.

Question 5: Team and resources

10 points

Who is in the programme team and what are their roles?

You should describe or explain:

  • the roles, skills and experience of all members of the programme team that are relevant to the approach you will be taking
  • the resources, equipment and facilities needed for the programme and how you will access them
  • the details of any vital external parties, including sub-contractors, who you will need to work with to successfully carry out the programme
  • the current relationships between programme partners and how these will change as a result of the activity
  • any gaps in the team that will need to be filled
  • the strength of the consortium as a whole, making clear what the different partners bring to the proposal

You can submit a single appendix as a PDF no larger than 1MB and up to 4 pages long to support your answer.

Question 6: Exemplar project

15 points

Provide details of your exemplar project or projects.

You should describe:

  • your exemplar projects including necessary background data and how the project(s) will impact existing clinical care pathways
  • provide details of how it will demonstrate the utility of the infrastructure you’ve created, , including the potential for economic impact, making the timelines clear
  • consider adoption and how your exemplar project will change practice
  • how the project can be scaled up across the UK
  • how you expect to use the results generated from the project in further research activities for the benefit of healthcare and industry

You can submit a single appendix as a PDF no larger than 1MB and up to 2 pages long to support your answer.

Question 7: Wider impacts and linkage to the aims of ISCF and the Life Sciences Industry Strategy

20 points

How will your proposed centre and exemplar project(s) have impact beyond the programme team, align with the aims of the Industry Strategy Challenge Fund and the Life Sciences Industrial Strategy and harness the potential of the NHS to drive economic growth?

Your answer should explain

  • how the centre will support companies, established and emerging, both through direct engagement and more broadly across the supply chain.
  • how the centre will benefit broader industry and the UK economy, through for example, productivity increases and import substitution
  • the kinds of companies that will benefit (size, type, focus, location etc),
  • how the centre will encourage companies not currently engaging with this sector to invest
  • the impact on regional development
  • the size of the target markets, backed up by references where available, and the effect that the centre will have on UK market share.
  • the structure and dynamics of relevant markets, including customer segmentation, together with predicted growth rates within clear timeframes
  • the target markets’ main supply or value chains and business models, and any barriers to entry that exist
  • the current UK position in targeting these markets
  • the size and main features of any other markets not already listed
  • how the activities of the centre will enhance cross sector partnerships and collaboration between UK academia, NHS and industry
  • as part of a network across the UK, how the centre will improve efficiency in the NHS
  • any expected impact on government priorities
  • any expected environmental impacts, either positive or negative

Describe any expected social impacts, either positive or negative on, for example:

  • quality of life
  • social inclusion or exclusion
  • jobs, such as safeguarding, creating, changing or displacing them
  • education
  • public empowerment
  • health and safety
  • regulations
  • diversity

You can submit a single appendix as a PDF no larger than 1MB and up to 2 pages long to support your answer.

Question 8: Project management

10 points

You should describe or explain:

  • the main work packages of the programme, indicating the relevant research category, the lead partner assigned to each and the total cost of each one
  • your approach to project management, identifying any major tools and mechanisms that will be used for a successful and innovative project outcome
  • how success will be measured and how the centre will ensure continued alignment with other funded centres and provide capacity to liaise with the ISCF Challenge Director and the ISCF programme
  • the management reporting lines
  • your project plan in enough detail to identify any links or dependencies between work packages or milestones

You can upload a project plan or Gantt chart as an appendix in PDF format no larger than 1MB and up to 2 pages long.

Question 9: Risks

10 points

What are the main risks for this programme?

You should describe or explain:

  • the main risks and uncertainties of the programme, including the technical, commercial, managerial and environmental risks, providing a risk register if appropriate
  • how these risks will be mitigated
  • any inputs that are critical to success, such as resources, expertise, data sets
  • any output likely to be subject to regulatory requirements, certification, ethical issues and so on, and how will you manage this?

You can upload a risk register as an appendix in PDF format no larger than 1MB and up to 2 pages long. The font must be Arial 10.

Question 10: Additionality

10 points

Describe the impact that an injection of public funding would have on your proposed centre and programme

You should describe or explain:

  • if this activity could go ahead in any form without public funding and if so, the difference the public funding would make, such as faster to market, more partners and reduced risk
  • the likely impact of the activity on the business of the partners involved
  • why you are not able to wholly fund the programme from your own resources or other forms of private-sector funding, and what would happen if the application is unsuccessful
  • how this programme would change the nature of R&D activity the partners would undertake, and the related spend

Question 11: Costs and value for money

10 points

How much will the programme cost and how does it represent value for money for the team and the taxpayer?

You should describe or explain:

  • the total programme cost and the grant being requested in terms of the centre’s goals
  • how the partners, i.e. Industry and any other investors, will finance their contributions to the programme
  • how this programme represents value for money for you and the taxpayer and how it compares to what you would spend your money on otherwise?
  • the balance of costs and grant across the consortium partners
  • any sub-contractor costs and why they are critical to the programme

3. Finances

The finances section asks each organisation in your team to complete their own programme costs, organisational details and funding details. Academics will need to complete and upload a Je-S form. For full details on what costs you can claim please see our project costs guidance.

Background and further information

This competition is being run as part of the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund (ISCF) investment in ’Data to early diagnosis and precision medicine’. This sits under the Ageing Society Industrial Strategy Grand Challenge, along with a programme in medicines manufacturing and health ageing. The programme of activity aims to maximise the use of data from multiple sources for patient benefit and ensure that the UK economy benefits from the excellence of the research base and the opportunities afforded by NHS England, and its equivalents in the Devolved Administrations.

This ISCF Challenge will see investment of £210 million in 3 major areas of related activity. The programme will maximise the UK’s potential to diagnose diseases earlier, identify the best therapeutic intervention for patients, and ultimately enable a new wave of treatment regimens to emerge. These new regimes will be based on a better understanding of disease processes and improved diagnostic capabilities. Each activity has placed industry’s needs and growth of the UK economy at the heart of the strategy. The 3 areas of activity are:

  1. Genomics - whole genome sequencing and associated informatics infrastructure
  2. Regional Digital Innovation Hubs, creating a network of secure health data analytical environments, within a common data infrastructure across the UK – led by Health Data Research UK.
  3. Digital pathology, radiology, and diagnostics. After these centres are selected, there will be further investment in CR&D for new diagnostics, and integration of biomedical and image-based technologies.

This competition focuses on the third area of activity. Specifically, investment in 5 or 6 centres of excellence, in digital pathology and/or in-vivo imaging technologies coupled with AI and machine learning. This competition has been designed following significant engagement with industry and the digital pathology/imaging community including the Office for Life Sciences, NHS England, and its equivalent in the Devolved Administrations, clinicians, laboratory-based scientists, academics, and experts in digital health and AI. In addition, the need to work closely with social and behavioural scientists and recognise the importance of standards and regulation (especially in relation to AI, which is less mature) has been highlighted.

Grants will be conditional upon centres agreeing to work collaboratively with one another

Successful applications will be assigned a Monitoring Officer, who will report to Innovate UK. The ISCF Challenge Director and team will also work closely with the centres to maximise the investment.

If you want help to find a programme collaborator, contact the Knowledge Transfer Network.

If you need more information, call the competition helpline on 0300 321 4357 or email us at

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