Business and research join forces to focus on innovation

New partnerships to collaborate on medical research and tackling climate change

8th April 2021 about a 5 minute read
“The coronavirus pandemic has taught us how vital collaboration is between industry and science and I hope partnerships like this will help in our efforts to prepare for, and respond to, future pandemics.” Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng

The government has announced nine new partnerships between businesses and research institutions to develop innovations in areas including medical research and tackling climate change.

The initiative is backed by a £75.2 million joint investment from government, business and academia. 

Innovations receiving funding include:

  • the development of synthetic biology to improve the cost effectiveness of drugs to treat diseases such as cancer 
  • sensor technology to help reduce distraction for drivers
  • converting waste into clean household products such as shampoo.

Commenting on the move, Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said: “The partnerships we are throwing our weight behind all have innovation at their core.

“When I visited the Francis Crick Institute, it was fantastic to see their ongoing work with GSK to speed up the development of new medicines. 

“The coronavirus pandemic has taught us how vital collaboration is between industry and science and I hope partnerships like this will help in our efforts to prepare for, and respond to, future pandemics.”

As part of the scheme, Unilever will partner with the University of Liverpool to reduce the carbon footprint of everyday consumer products such as shampoo and laundry detergent. 

The collaboration will see researchers developing sustainable materials from waste by using methods such as carbon capture, helping to decarbonise the global chemical supply chain and contribute to the UK’s net zero ambitions.

Meanwhile technology company Ultraleap will partner with University College London (UCL) to develop acoustic technology that allows people to ‘feel’, ‘hear’ and ‘see’ virtual 3D objects and holograms. 

It will work through interactive mid-air applications such as VR training simulators, novel user interfaces in cars, digital signage and interactive kiosks. 

For example, mid-air interfaces can help reduce driver distraction during human-car interactions by enabling buttons, dials and other controls to find the driver who could hold their hand out and feel buttons to change the audio, answer a phone call or check navigation.

The new funding is being delivered through the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and is part of the Prosperity Partnerships programme. It builds on the government’s commitment to raise economy-wide investment in research and development to 2.4% by 2027.

EPSRC Executive Chair, Professor Dame Lynn Gladden, said: “To tackle key challenges, such as achieving net zero carbon, and seize new opportunities, we need to harness the world-class expertise of both industry and academia.

“The Prosperity Partnerships announced today do this by supporting collaborations that will develop transformative new technologies with the potential to deliver societal impact and economic growth”.

Other projects being supported include:

M Squared, AstraZeneca, Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL) and the University of Southampton

This partnership aims to revolutionise the imaging technologies used to assess how effective new drugs will be in treating various conditions. It aims to develop tools that will provide live, high resolution 3D images on a large scale to determine the impact of drugs in living miniaturised yet realistic versions of human tissue and organs. 

This would be an upgrade on current techniques which rely on the invasive and time-consuming process of using fluorescent light to determine their impact. It will help to speed up the process of discovering and bringing more cost effective and efficacious drugs to market.

EDF, University of Bristol, University of Manchester, Imperial College London and the Science and Technology Facilities Council

The project will harness expertise to develop the components of digital twins – virtual models of physical entities – that can be used to assess the condition of components of energy generators such as nuclear power plants, and their need for maintenance or remedial work. 

This will help in the delivery and operation of major low-carbon energy generation buildings, and will create seven new research roles and incorporate 18 PhD studentships.

FUJIFILM Diosynth Biotechnologies, Universities of Edinburgh, Manchester and York

The partnership will use state-of-the-art tools and synthetic biology to improve the development of biological drugs from cells and make production more efficient. These drugs, which bring together genetic material from different sources, have transformed the treatment of life-limiting diseases including cancer, haemophilia and rheumatoid arthritis. 

Lubrizol and the Universities of Nottingham and Warwick

This partnership has the ambitious mission to decarbonise the speciality chemicals industry. Through its smart molecule design and energy resilient processes, it will use its chemistry to reduce the carbon footprints of everyday consumer products such as soaps, athletic wear, medicines and cars.

Shell, Imperial College London and Diamond Light Source

The three organisations aim to improve the efficiency, stability and longevity of systems by controlling the complex interfaces on which these technologies rely, delivering a pathway to meet the UK’s ambitious targets for the energy transition.

BBC, University of Surrey and Lancaster University

Personalised media experiences, which are tailored to users’ preferences and their device, have the potential to create 100,000 jobs and drive annual growth of £2 billion to the UK by 2030. This partnership will build on the BBC’s work in this area, whilst harnessing the universities’ expertise in audio-visual AI and software-defined networks, together with the ability to run large-scale trials. The goal of the project is to develop systems that produce and deliver personalised experiences for millions of people whilst maintaining cost and energy efficiency.



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