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Funding competition January 2018 sector competition: strand 1, health and life sciences

UK businesses can apply for a share of up to £19 million to develop innovations in health and life sciences or emerging and enabling technologies. A further £12 million is available for KTPs.

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Innovate UK will invest in a share of up to £19 million in innovation projects that inspire new products, processes and services. These should address challenges in health and life sciences (H&LS).

A further £12 million is available to fund Knowledge Transfer Partnerships (KTPs).

Projects must show significant innovation in one of our priority areas:

  • increasing agricultural productivity
  • improving food quality and sustainability
  • advanced therapies (cell and gene therapies)
  • precision medicine
  • medicines discovery
  • advanced biosciences

This competition has 2 strands. This is the health and life sciences strand. The other strand is emerging and enabling.

Proposals must show how projects will enable a significant change in competitiveness and productivity for at least one UK SME involved in the project.

If your project size falls outside of our scope, contact us before you apply

Funding type


Project size

Your project’s total costs should be between £50,000 and £2 million. Projects should last between 6 months and 24 months. Projects lasting up to 12 months should start by August 2018, and projects up to 24 months should start by December 2018.


Who can apply

To be eligible for funding you must:

  • be a UK-based business, academic, charity, public sector organisation or research and technology organisation (RTO)
  • carry out your project work, and intend to exploit the results, in the UK

The lead organisation must claim funding through this competition. If the project is collaborative, at least one other organisation in the consortium must also claim funding.

All projects must involve an SME, and only an SME can lead projects with costs below £100,000.

Any one business or RTO may lead on one application and partner in a further 2 applications. If a business is not leading an application, they can be a partner in up to 3 applications. An RTO can only lead a project if no business in the consortium has the capacity to lead the project.

If an RTO is:

  • the lead on an application they must have 2 business collaborators (one SME, and one other business of any size)
  • not the lead on any application, they can be a partner in any number of applications

Academics cannot lead on an application but can be a collaborator in any number of applications.

The research organisations collaborating as part of a consortium may share up to 30% of the total eligible project costs. If your consortium contains more than one research organisation, this maximum will be shared between them.

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

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 will be made by 3 team members
  • communicate our decision to you in writing

For more information on the criteria, read the general guidance for applicants.


If Innovate UK judges that your proposal is not materially different from your previous proposal, it will be classed as a resubmission.

If your application is unsuccessful, you may reapply with the same proposal once more, taking into account the feedback received from the assessors. This can be into another round of this competition or another competition. In other words, you can make a maximum of 2 applications in total with any proposal.


We have allocated up to £19 million to fund innovation projects in this competition. Up to £9.5 million is allocated for strand 1, health and life sciences. Another £9.5 million is allocated to emerging and enabling technologies.

Projects with costs:

  • up to and including £100,000 can be single or collaborative but must be led by an SME
  • over £100,000 must be collaborative, include a funded partner and involve an SME

Funding is available for projects:

  • with eligible costs of up to £100,000 that last between 6 and 12 months
  • with eligible costs of up to £2 million that last between 12 and 24 months

A further £12 million is available for Knowledge Transfer Partnerships (KTPs).

For more information on the criteria, read the general guidance for applicants.

Knowledge Transfer Partnerships

As part of this competition we also welcome applications for Knowledge Transfer Partnerships (KTPs). KTP applications should follow the specific guidance for KTPs.

For KTPs we are accepting applications across H&LS. Projects should focus on agriculture, food and healthcare. We particularly welcome KTPs that cover the specific competition themes.

If you are applying for a KTP, you are subject to the same deadline but must follow a different process. Contact your local KTP adviser to learn more and find out how to apply.


Your proposal

The aim of the health and life sciences strand of this competition is to develop innovations that lead to increased agricultural productivity, enhanced food quality and sustainability or improved healthcare outcomes.

We are looking to fund a portfolio of projects, across different technologies, markets and technology maturities. These may include feasibility studies, industrial research or experimental development.

Specific themes

Applications need to address at least one of the following themes.

Increasing agricultural productivity

The development of technologies to enhance efficient resource use and improve productivity in agricultural production. Projects do not need to be limited to UK agriculture but must have the potential to create a significant change in primary agricultural production.

Can include all aspects of advanced breeding technologies, crop and livestock husbandry, advanced engineering solutions and decision-support tools.

This theme can include, but is not limited to:

  • advanced and precision engineering
  • fighting agro-chemical and antimicrobial resistance
  • enhancing resilience to biotic and abiotic stress
  • individualised livestock or aquaculture nutrition and healthcare
  • novel genetics and breeding

Enhancing food quality

This can be done by improving the nutritional quality of raw ingredients or finished products, or by enhancing provenance and traceability. It can also include the creation of smarter packaging to improve safety, cut household waste and extend quality and shelf life.

This theme can include, but is not limited to:

  • authenticity and traceability
  • enhanced nutritional value
  • food safety
  • modern methods of food manufacturing
  • new and smarter ingredients
  • protein development
  • smarter packaging

Precision medicine

Enabling accurate decision-making for patient management and choice of therapy. This includes combining clinical biomarker knowledge with advances in diagnostic technologies and data analysis.

You must outline the basic value proposition and the path to commercial opportunity. Take into account the intended end-user, including NHS or other healthcare provider, business or direct-to-consumer.

Applications need to address at least one of the following themes:

  • novel molecular diagnostic platforms and medtech devices, including ergonomically designed point-of-care technologies, that enable precision medicine
  • informatics platforms that support the clinical uptake of precision medicine technologies, such as integrated clinical decision support

We are particularly seeking applications in:

  • cancer, with a focus on the prediction of adverse drug responses, such as for CAR-T immunotherapy
  • paediatric and maternal-foetal medicine
  • rare diseases

Advanced therapies

The development of innovative medical therapies, (cell and gene therapies), which offer treatments for many areas of unmet medical need.

Applications need to address at least one of the following themes:

  • addressing the industrial challenges associated with the design of clinical programmes
  • manufacturing advanced therapies at scale for late stage clinical trials
  • developing the necessary tools and technologies to enable near-patient application

We are particularly seeking applications in:

  • sensors e.g. soft sensor systems to enable improved production methods for cell and gene therapy
  • development of non-viral delivery systems for gene therapy
  • tools and techniques for quality control to enable real-time product release

Medicines discovery

The development and validation of technologies, models and test systems to advance the preclinical evaluation of medicines.

Applications need to address at least one of the following themes:

  • novel systems biology approaches to drug discovery, including artificial intelligence (AI)
  • novel cellular systems for assessing the safety and efficacy of new medicines, including human cell-based models for drug discovery
  • intracellular drug target engagement
  • novel ’omics platforms for medicines discovery
  • repurposing of existing licensed pharmaceutical products for new clinical indications using novel technologies

We are particularly seeking applications in:

  • central nervous system (CNS) disorders
  • cancer
  • infectious diseases
  • paediatric and maternal-foetal medicine

Advanced biosciences

The development of bioscience-based tools, platforms and techniques. They can be applied to multiple industries and provide clear innovation and benefit, such as in cell imaging, 3D cell culture or sequencing.

Applications need to address at least one of the following themes:

  • processes, tools and techniques to exploit microbiomes and biofilms
  • the development of new, beneficial materials and products from biofilms, or the development of solutions to biofilm challenges
  • the development of scalable tools, products, platforms or processes that enable the field of synthetic biology

We are particularly seeking applications in:

  • synthetic biology technologies, including standards
  • high-throughput systems to advance productivity in synthetic biology, including automation and robotics
  • computational systems biology technologies for replicating and predicting biological activity in silico
  • products or processes using biofilms or mixed microbiological communities
  • the creation of materials or techniques that inhibit the development of deleterious biofilms
  • innovative tools for biological research that have a clear benefit compared to existing techniques

Projects we won't fund

We will not fund projects that cover these subsets of our priority themes.

Increasing agricultural productivity:

  • forestry, equine or wild-capture fisheries

Improved food quality and sustainability:

  • food processing or manufacturing applications that focus solely on improvements in production efficiency
  • a primary focus on a health claim (as opposed to a nutrition claim) that would require approval from the European Food Safety Authority

Precision medicine, advanced therapies, medicines discovery and advanced biosciences:

  • diagnostic tests for treatments that are still in development, unless a companion diagnostic
  • biomarker discovery
  • digital health and wellness apps
  • the development of new viral delivery systems
  • the manufacture of viral vectors that are not part of human therapy
  • medicines manufacturing
  • target discovery
  • development projects for licensed medicines, except for repurposing
  • clinical studies
  • industrial scale bio-production
  • food and animal feed production
  • biofilm treatment processes
  • probiotics

Project types

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

  • up to 70% if you are a 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 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.


22 January 2018
Briefing event in London. Watch the recording.
22 January 2018
Competition opens
28 March 2018 12:00pm
Competition closes
22 June 2018
Applicants notified

How to apply

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 participate in the project as collaborators if your application is successful

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

What we will ask you

The application is split into 3 sections:

  1. Project details
  2. Application questions
  3. Finances

1. Project details

Explain your project. 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 partner organisations you have named as collaborators.

Project summary

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

Public description

Describe your project 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 project funding, we will publish this description. This could be before you start your project.

Project scope

Describe how your project fits the scope of the competition. If your project 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 400 words long.

Question 1: Need or challenge

What is the business need, citizen challenge, technological challenge or market opportunity behind your innovation?

You should describe or explain:

  • the main motivation for the project
  • the business need, technological challenge or market opportunity
  • the nearest current state-of-the-art, including those near market or in development, and its limitations
  • any work you have already done to respond to this need, for example if the project is focused on developing an existing capability or building a new one
  • 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

Question 2: Approach and innovation

What approach will you take and where will the focus of the innovation be?

You should describe or explain:

  • how you will respond to the need, challenge or opportunity identified
  • how you will improve on the nearest current state-of-the-art identified
  • whether the innovation will focus on the application of existing technologies in new areas, the development of new technologies for existing areas or a totally disruptive approach
  • the freedom you have to operate
  • how this project fits with your current product, service lines or offerings
  • how it will make you more competitive
  • the nature of the outputs you expect from the project (for example, report, demonstrator, know-how, new process, product or service design) and how these will help you to target the need, challenge or opportunity identified

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

Question 3: Team and resources

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

You should describe or explain:

  • the roles, skills and experience of all members of the project team that are relevant to the approach you will be taking
  • the resources, equipment and facilities needed for the project 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 project
  • (if your project is collaborative) the current relationships between project partners and how these will change as a result of the project
  • any gaps in the team that will need to be filled

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

Question 4: Market awareness

What does the market you are targeting look like?

You should describe or explain:

  • the markets (domestic, international or both) you will be targeting in the project and any other potential markets
  • the size of the target markets for the project outcomes, backed up by references where available
  • the structure and dynamics of the target 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

If your project is highly innovative, where the market may be unexplored, describe or explain:

  • what the market’s size might to be
  • how your project will try to explore the market’s potential

Question 5: Outcomes and route to market

How are you going to grow your business and increase your productivity into the long term as a result of the project?

You should describe or explain:

  • your current position in the markets and supply or value chains outlined, and whether you will be extending or establishing your market position
  • your target customers and/or end users, and the value to them, for example, why would they use or buy it?
  • your route to market
  • how you are going to profit from the innovation (increased revenues or cost reduction)
  • how the innovation will affect your productivity and growth, in both the short and the long term
  • how you will protect and exploit the outputs of the project, for example through know-how, patenting, designs or changes to your business model
  • your strategy for targeting the other markets you have identified during or after the project

If there is any research organisation activity in the project, describe:

  • your plans to spread the project’s research outputs over a reasonable timescale
  • how you expect to use the results generated from the project in further research activities

Question 6: Wider impacts

What impact might this project have outside the project team?

You should describe, and where possible measure:

  • the economic benefits from the project to external parties, including customers, others in the supply chain, broader industry and the UK economy, such as productivity increases and import substitution
  • any expected impact on government priorities
  • any expected environmental impacts, either positive or negative
  • any expected regional impacts of the project

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

Question 7: Project management

You should describe or explain:

  • the main work packages of the project, 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.
  • the management reporting lines
  • your project plan in enough detail to identify any links or dependencies between work packages or milestones

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

Question 8: Risks

What are the main risks for this project?

You should describe or explain:

  • the main risks and uncertainties of the project, including the technical, commercial, managerial and environmental risks, providing a risk register if appropriate
  • how these risks will be mitigated
  • any project inputs that are critical to completion, 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 may upload a risk register as an appendix in PDF format no larger than 1MB and up to 2 pages long.

Question 9: Additionality

Describe the impact that an injection of public funding would have on this project.

You should describe or explain:

  • if this project 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 project on the business of the partners involved
  • why you are not able to wholly fund the project from your own resources or other forms of private-sector funding, and what would happen if the application is unsuccessful
  • how this project would change the nature of R&D activity the partners would undertake, and the related spend

Question 10: Costs and value for money

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

You should describe or explain:

  • the total project cost and the grant being requested in terms of the project goals
  • how the partners will finance their contributions to the project
  • how this project 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 project partners
  • any sub-contractor costs and why they are critical to the project

3. Finances

The finances section asks each organisation in your project to complete their own project 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.

Supporting information

Background and further information

If you want help to find a project partner, contact the Knowledge Transfer Network.

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

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