UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) is the public body responsible for supporting Innovate UK. This year, UKRI has made a distinct effort to invest in research and development projects that address the effects of COVID-19. So far, over 1,000 SMEs have received grant funding for projects related to coronavirus across the healthcare, pharmaceuticals, and technology sectors. This article outlines the ten most sizeable grants awarded to private UK companies for COVID-related innovation projects.
Total grant amount: £2.13m
Bicycle Therapeutics is a University of Cambridge spinout that underwent an IPO in 2019, raising £47.9m. This biotechnology company uses its proprietary bicyclic peptide (Bicycle®) technology to develop new therapies and treatment options, primarily for oncology patients.
In September, Bicycle Therapeutics received Innovate UK’s largest research grant for a COVID-19 project so far, worth £2.13m. Using its technology, the company aims to develop novel antivirals for pandemics. It also sees potential for anti-inflammatory treatments for later-stage COVID-19 patients. This multi-strategy project is due to run until May 2021.
Total grant amount: £928k
Founded in 2017, DIOSynVax is another University of Cambridge spinout. Its name stands for Digitally designed, Immune Optimised Selected and Synthesized Vaccines. This new technology uses AI-enhanced bioinformatic algorithms to advance vaccines and improve protection against pathogens.
DIOSynVax’s technology has previously been used to research vaccines for diseases such as influenza and Ebola. Using existing information on COVID-19, SARS, MERS, and other coronaviruses, DIOSynVax is now using its technology to develop a vaccine for the current pandemic. Unlike the Pfizer vaccine, this would not need to be stored at cold temperatures and could be given without needles, possibly helping with distribution and accessibility.
Innovate UK has also given funding to other research organisations for this project: £756k to the University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust, and £208k to the University of Cambridge, totalling £1.89m.
Total grant amount: £728k
BG Research was established in 2004 as an innovation pipeline to BioGene which uses intelligent molecular design to create technology that increases access to diagnostic testing.
BG Research has received several Innovate UK grants in recent years, alongside funding from the Department for International Development (DFID) to develop technology in response to the Ebola epidemic in 2014. BG Research’s latest COVID-19 grant enables the company to use its existing QuRapID-XF technology for simplified, low-cost virus testing.
This technology was originally designed for use in rural Africa during the Ebola outbreak and does not require a lab or expert users. The test is also portable, and provides results in just thirty minutes, meaning isolation and contact tracing can be performed faster and more effectively.
Total grant amount: £714k
Featured on the Startups 100 high-growth list in 2018, Wearable Technologies develops technologies such as location and environmental condition monitoring sensors, designed to be worn ‘close to the body, on the body or even in the body’.
The company received its Innovate UK grant in September to address the long-term need for social distancing policies in the workplace, particularly in the industrial space.
The development of Eleksen Safer Space means each worker can wear a device that will warn them when they are within 4m and 2m of another worker. The technology also aims to give information to employers on the effectiveness of their social distancing policies and improve the safety of working spaces by eliminating overcrowding.
Total grant amount: £564k
Intelligent Fingerprinting was established in 2007 and spun out of the University of East Anglia. It pioneered a simple and portable drug screening system based on fingerprint samples. Our researchers have identified the company as a 10% scaleup: it has grown at least 10% on average, over a three-year period.
Intelligent Fingerprinting’s Innovate UK grant this year is for a six-month project to pivot their existing technology into a highly sensitive and portable COVID-19 test, which works by collecting fingerprint sweat. This type of testing can be performed by non-medically trained staff and results should be delivered in just ten minutes, with no hazardous biomedical waste.
Working with researchers at the Institute of Global Health Innovation at Imperial College London, Intelligent Fingerprinting hopes to boost development and create a test that can be available across the UK in workplaces and care homes.
Oxford Expression Technologies
Total grant amount: £545k
Founded by Oxford Brookes University and the Natural Environment Research Council, Oxford Expression Technologies describes itself as ‘a world-renowned centre of excellence for Baculovirus protein expression’. It offers a range of products, consultancy, and services to the biotechnology and pharmaceutical sectors, and experienced a surge in demand during COVID.
Innovate UK research funding means that Oxford Expression Technologies will work with leading Australian vaccine company Vaxine, who developed the first swine flu vaccine back in 2009. Spike protein, based on a virus that can only grow in insect cells to ensure it is safe, will be produced and mixed with an adjuvant to boost immunity and minimise adverse vaccine reactions.
The partnership expects that this type of COVID-19 vaccine will be ready for Phase 1 trials and have outlined processes for large-scale manufacture within 12 months.
Location: London, Tower Hamlets
Total grant amount: £530k
Secretarium is a startup that was established in 2017 to guarantee its clients complete data privacy. Using the latest cryptography, consensus algorithms and hardware security technologies, Secretarium delivers end-to-end encryption and keeps data secure even during processing.
The company has received funding for a project lasting until March which aims to innovate a solution to data privacy concerns and fears of mass surveillance with the current track-and-trace systems.
Secretarium’s technology, currently used in financial services, means potentially infected people can be contacted without tracers seeing their identity. Secretarium hopes that the project results in greater public confidence over the safety of their data during the track-and-trace process.
Outcomes Based Healthcare
Location: London, Westminster
Total grant amount: £489k
Incorporated in 2013, Outcomes Based Healthcare provides analytics, insights, and business services to organisations working on healthcare strategies and health outcomes.
Its primary product, the Outcomes Platform, was selected in 2017 for the NHS Innovation Accelerator programme. The platform offers population health management tools, allowing observation of patient health outcomes with population segmentation.
The company’s eligibility for an Innovate UK grant means it can put together a vulnerable population analysis and investigate groups most at-risk of severe COVID-19. The analysis will evaluate the relative risks of different health conditions, as well as hospital admissions, ITU/ICU admissions, and mortality rates from COVID-19.
Total grant amount: £396k
Part of the medical devices sector, Sentinel BioSensor was founded in 2018 and develops wearables that inform medical professionals of a patient’s health by tracking vital signs. The product aims to minimise patient deaths caused by signs of deterioration being missed.
Sentinel BioSensor attended the Entrepreneur Accelerator in the 2019-2020 cohort. Now supported by an innovation grant, the company has developed a wearable device named C-Detect to monitor deterioration for those with possible or confirmed COVID-19.
C-Detect informs the wearer if they should self-isolate or seek medical help as their vital signs are worsening. The device boasts both medical-grade accuracy and ease of use for regular consumers, as well as a Bluetooth social distancing feature and integration with Apple/Google tracing.
Location: London, Camden
Total grant amount: £308k
SporeGen is a biotechnology company spun out from Royal Holloway that works on a range of healthcare products, primarily with Bacillus—a genus of bacteria. SporeGen’s strategy is split into four key areas: vaccines, drug delivery, probiotics and contract research.
Funding from Innovate UK will contribute to an 18-month project, with a further £257k for the University of Liverpool whose virology experts will support the research and £236k for biotechnology company Destiny Pharma.
The project focuses on immunomodulation—the enhancing of innate immunity—against viral infections. The product uses inactive bacterial spores and can be easily produced at low-cost. It can also be stored indefinitely without needing cold temperatures.
While vaccination is the ideal preventative measure, this product is an alternative strategy for prophylaxis in the current or future pandemics where vaccines are not yet ready to avert socio-economic disaster.