Collaborate to Innovate is an exciting programme for the life sciences sector, launched in early 2016 and funded by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), the Higher Education Funding Council (HEFCE) and MedCity. The programme promotes engagement between SMEs and universities to create more research collaborations.

The interim evaluation of Round 1 of the programme has now been published by our independent evaluator, KADA Research. Below are some key extracts from the evaluation’s executive summary.

CONTEXT

Collaborate to Innovate fits the objectives of the ERDF Operational Programme Priority Axis 1, which aims to increase the number of SMEs engaged in collaborative research and innovation. The project fits this overarching aim closely as its focus is on the business aspects of taking new products or services to market and commercialising them.

The Life Sciences Industrial Strategy includes proposals to further improve the speed and efficiency of UK clinical trial capabilities including a focus on novel trial designs and change of practice trials to ensure it remains at the cutting edge of translational research. It also aspires to make the UK the best place for life sciences businesses to grow.

STUDY AIMS AND APPROACH

  • A robust assessment of progress towards objectives
  • A review of rationale and strategic fit
  • A quantitative impact evaluation of performance
  • A review of project delivery and administration
  • An assessment of value for money

PERFORMANCE

Most of the 15 companies supported were relatively early stage firms with an average age of 6.5 years. Six of the 15 firms were pre-revenue companies, three of which spent in excess of £0.5m in the year before they came to the project on BERD (Business, Enterprise and Research and Development). The average R&D spend as a percentage of turnover was 96.4% so the project is working with very active R&D firms.

The programme tended to work with firms already active in product and process innovation. Only two of the client group did not undertake any product or process innovation in the previous three financial years.

The projects cover a wide range of medical technology and life science sectors including digital health and AI technologies, drug discovery/biotech/pharma sectors and medical devices.

BUSINESS SURVEY

There was evidence of firms overcoming key barriers to R&D. The following barriers all experienced a 100% decrease:

  • lack of funding, up-front finance or poor payback time
  • ideas not developed enough
  • lack of knowledge of markets to take forward ideas / products

There were very high ratings for the professionalism and the analysis of their requirement. In terms of the quality and delivery of the support the businesses were very satisfied.

Some 80-90% of firms had worked with universities prior to Collaborate to Innovate, but as a result of the project these working relationships improved. Several of the collaborations are continuing beyond the projects’ lifespan. Numerous benefits were cited from working with academics. There are benefits for the academic partners too who are increasingly interested in technology transfer and how research can enter the real world and be adopted and benefit patients and transfer to the market.

There were many long-term benefits cited by the business and academic collaborators, although for some it is too early to fully define.

ECONOMIC IMPACT AND VALUE FOR MONEY

The Collaborate to Innovate project has created 35 direct gross FTE jobs (23 direct and 12 indirect) and a total NPV GVA of £3.2 million.In addition, a further £5.8m of NPV GVA is estimated resulting from R&D investment.

The estimated combined net GVA of £9.0m would result in a cost benefit ratio (CBR) of 1:9.0 i.e. each £1.00 of public investment will generate £9.00. This is higher than might be expected for this kind of initiative. For instance, a review by CRESR of evidence for R&D support cites a CBR of 1:1.8 to 1:2.5.

PROJECT DELIVERY

Overall, the Collaborate to Innovate programme was regarded as being efficiently and professionally run, with the MedCity team being praised for its pragmatism and flexibility. The application and selection process was reported by all participating businesses and Universities as being straightforward and quick.

INTERIM CONCLUSIONS OF PERFORMANCE AGAINST OBJECTIVES

There is good progress towards the objectives to promote business investment in research and innovation, product and service development as well as technology transfer and product validation. Some £7.4m of additional Business R&D is estimated to be spent and in terms of new to the market products, the target of three has been exceeded by two (167%). The target for new to the firm products has been exceeded threefold (nine against a target of three).

All firms said they enhanced links and synergies with Universities, building networks suggesting that objective has been met (though many were already reasonably active in this area). Another objective was the development of case studies and shared learning on SME/Academic engagement.

LESSONS

FOR THOSE DESIGNING AND IMPLEMENTING SIMILAR INTERVENTIONS

  • Ensure delivery partners have organised sufficient capacity prior to starting a project to avoid unnecessary delays. If the project involves working with clinicians, early SME/Academic engagement is paramount to identify any issues to avoid unnecessary delays.
  • Co-design is a really good tool for pre-bid stakeholder engagement.
  • Build in programme management expertise from strategic partners to minimise the administrative burdens on SMEs.
  • Where feasible build in contingency for staff changes, recruitment and approvals.
  • An application process that is straightforward, efficient and light in terms of resources and time required is likely to be well received.

POLICY MAKERS

  • Consider the applicability of this model to other science and R&D heavy clusters in both medical and non-medical sectors. It could focus on geographical clusters with a sufficient HEI presence.
  • Consider how the bureaucracy attached to successor funds could be smarter, lighter and more straightforward (using digital etc).
  • Allowing intermediaries like MedCity to manage R&D interventions can help to lever existing expertise for the purposes of high impact collaborations.

To find out more about Collaborate to Innovate contact Elias Zapantis (izapantis@medcityhq.com).