Funding competition Digitalisation of medicines manufacturing: Challenge Fund

UK businesses can apply for a share of up to £8 million from the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund for capital projects to improve medicines manufacturing.

This competition is now closed.

Register and apply online

Competition sections


Innovate UK, as part of UK Research and Innovation, will invest up to £8 million in capital infrastructure innovation projects. This is to enable existing medicines manufacturing operations to improve their scope, efficiency and effectiveness through the application of digitally-enabled technology.

The proposals should justify any future improvements and the reason for selecting the specific enhancement that you are planning.

Single or collaborative applications are welcome. Projects can be led by a business of any size.

If your project’s total costs or duration fall outside of our eligibility criteria, email at least 10 days before the competition closes.

Funding type


Project size

Your project’s total costs must be between £2 million and £4 million. Projects must start by 1 January 2019 and end by 31 March 2019. They can last between 3 and 4 months.

Who can apply

To be eligible for funding you must:

  • be a UK-based business
  • carry out your project work in the UK
  • intend to exploit the results from or in the UK
  • work alone or in collaboration with other businesses

Single applicants must claim funding. If the project is collaborative, the lead and at least one other organisation must claim funding.

Multiple applications

Any one business can lead on one application and collaborate in a further 2 applications. If a business is not leading an application, they can be a collaborator in up to 3 applications.

Partners with no funding

Projects can include partners that do not receive any funding (for example, non-UK businesses). Their costs will count towards the total project costs but they will not count as collaborators.

Failure to exploit

If you applied to a previous competition as the lead or sole company and were awarded funding by Innovate UK, but did not make a substantial effort to exploit that award, we will award no more funding to you, in this or any other competition. You will not be able to contest our decision. We will:

  • assess your efforts in the previous competition against your exploitation plan for that project
  • review the monitoring officers’ reports and any other relevant sources for evidence
  • document our decision, which 3 team members will make
  • communicate our decision to you in writing

Previous projects

Under the terms of Innovate UK funding, we need you to submit an independent accountant’s report (IAR) with your final claim. If you or any organisation in your consortium failed to submit an IAR on a previous project, we will not award funding to you in this or any other competition until we have received the documents.


We have allocated up to £8 million to fund innovation projects in this competition.

This competition is for funding to support capital infrastructure, including refurbishment and equipment. Support given for construction or upgrade of research infrastructures that perform economic activities will fall within the EU definition of state aid as ‘Investment aid for research infrastructure’ and is limited to 50% of the eligible project costs. Funds awarded cannot be used to support salaries, consumables or what is known as working capital.

This competition is open to any UK business that can demonstrate that the capital infrastructure grant they are requesting will:

  • improve the UK’s capacity and capability to manufacture small-molecule, biological, or cell or gene-based medicines or
  • significantly reduce the cost of manufacturing them or
  • significantly reduce the waste produced while manufacturing them

Any purchases made or retro-fitting undertaken must be used for medicines manufacturing-related activities at least 80% of the time.

Your project must focus on investment aid for research infrastructures. Support given for construction or upgrade of research infrastructures that perform economic activities is considered to be state aid and is limited to 50% of the investment costs. Further details and a worked example can be found on page 41 of the State Aid General Block Exemption guidance.

A UK business must be eligible to receive state aid. If you are unsure please take legal advice. For further information please see our general guidance.

Your proposal

This competition aims to encourage the application of digitally enabled methods or technologies to improve the manufacture of medicines for human use.

Your proposal must show how digital technology can integrate or enhance the steps in a manufacturing and supply chain.

If your project focuses on reducing waste or cost, you must be able to show an improvement of more than 25%. Small incremental improvements will be outside scope.

We are looking to fund a portfolio of projects, across a variety of technologies, markets and technological maturities.

You must show how your project will increase the productivity, competitiveness, capability or growth of at least one UK business involved in the project.

Specific themes

Your proposal can include approaches that have the potential to deliver, for example:

  • improved commercially viable manufacturing processes
  • methods for the reliable and robust scale-up of production of novel medicines
  • an increase in access to medicines that need just-in-time delivery, for example those that have a short shelf life
  • an increased yield of active ingredient or final product
  • a lower cost of production and goods
  • smoother integration of ordering and delivery, for example by co-ordination of prescription with production scheduling
  • a reduction in waste, for example by manufacturing to order rather than to stock

In this competition medicines that are in scope and can be exemplar products are limited to:

  • advanced therapy medicinal products
  • natural product medicines
  • nucleic acid-based drugs
  • prophylactic vaccines
  • protein or peptide biopharmaceuticals
  • small molecular-weight pharmaceuticals
  • virus and phage therapeutics

Project types

We will fund capital investment in fixed assets and their enhancement.

We will give priority to proposals that:

  • can demonstrate well-established experience in GMP manufacture
  • can demonstrate they are able to co-fund
  • lower the cost of goods

You must show that your project will be compliant with all relevant general state aid regulations.

Projects we will not fund

We will not fund projects that cover:

  • incremental improvements in existing facilities that are unlikely to result in a significant change to costs, range of products, access to new markets or resource usage
  • discovery of medicines
  • non-commercial manufacturing applications
  • technology for manufacture of medicines for non-human use
  • enhancements to manufacture that do not rely primarily on digital technology
  • expansion of manufacturing within an academic or clinically-managed facility

10 September 2018
Competition opens
11 September 2018
Online briefing event recording.
21 September 2018
London sector engagement event.
3 October 2018 12:00pm
Registration closes
10 October 2018 12:00pm
Competition closes
2 November 2018
Applicants notified

Before you start

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

To apply:

  • register online using the green button
  • read the guidance for applicants for this competition
  • consider attending one of the briefing events listed in ‘Dates’
  • complete and upload your online application to our secure server

We will not accept late submissions. Your application is confidential.

External, independent experts will assess the quality your application. We will then select the projects to fund, building a portfolio of projects that:

  • are high quality
  • address the range of themes as described in the scope
  • represent the potential for return on investment for the company and the UK

Subject to meeting the quality threshold, we reserve the right to manage the portfolio to achieve the correct balance of projects and funding.

You must use Microsoft Word or your application will be ineligible.

Background and further information

You will find useful information on current strategic thinking in the area of manufacturing digitalisation in Professor Juergen Maier’s ‘Made Smarter Review 2017’, published by BEIS.

Extra help

If you want help to find a project 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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