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Biomedical catalyst fund awards £47m in second round

Science minister David Willetts announced awards totalling £47.2 million in the second funding round of the government’s biomedical catalyst fund, at the Innovate UK conference in London today.

The fund is described as “this government’s most effective UK biotech initiative” in a report from the UK BioIndustry Association, also published on 11 March.

With a total funding budget of £180m for three years, the fund aims to bridge the so-called ‘valley of death’ between basic research and a marketable product. It is run by the Technology Strategy Board and the Medical Research Council.

The £47.2m was awarded to 51 businesses: 25 feasibility studies will share £3.3m; 18 early stage projects will share £30.3m; and eight late-stage projects will share £13.6m.

The BIA says in its report that the first round of catalyst funding, which saw £48.8m invested in 64 companies, has brought more than £20m in industry finance into the field. The money has accelerated medical research and innovation in UK bioscience companies is moving faster than it “otherwise might have”, the BIA says.

In a statement, Willetts agrees that the biomedical catalyst fund has proved to be a “real success” and he wants to see the model replicated in other technology areas.

Steve Bates, the BIA’s chief executive officer said BIA member companies say engaging with government-led schemes can be “complicated and time consuming for businesses”, but that this was not the case for the biomedical catalyst fund.

“[This is] because it has a short and straightforward application process, a speedy response and decision on the application and expert scrutiny that is seen as de-risking the project and driving investor interest,” he said.

The BIA report contains a guide to applying for funding, with advice from previous applicants. It notes that successful and unsuccessful applicants were positive about the process, and that interested parties felt the assessment was “rigorous”.

First-round winners include the pharmaceutical development and device company Glide Pharma, which took away £2.3m from the fund and an additional £14m in private investment for its clinical testing devices for osteoporosis.

At the conference, Willetts also launched a £3.7m TSB competition for feasibility studies in photonics for health—in laser eye surgery or cancer diagnosis for example—which is open for applications until 1 May.

He also announced the results of three TSB competitions—£1.25m for nine businesses to study energy-efficient computing, £1.15m for 10 businesses working on energy-harvesting techniques and £6.2m for eight business-led projects developing applications for the ‘Internet of Things’.