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Introducing Collaborate to Innovate: London Diagnostics

Our brand new programme – Collaborate to Innovate London Diagnostics – will be welcoming applicants from Tuesday 1st June.

The London Diagnostics programme offers small to medium sized enterprises (SMEs) in London cross-sector partnering opportunities and a year-long funded journey to commercial readiness. Applicants meeting the entry criteria (London-based, and with a diagnostic innovation that has passed proof of concept) will benefit from a bespoke matchmaking process. They will be teamed up with world-leading researchers, major diagnostics companies and evidence-generation authorities to develop a collaborative research project.

Up to 10 research projects will receive funding and support to streamline the research and development process and route to market.

Q&A with our partners at Cancer Research UK

One of our key partners in the programme is Cancer Research UK (CRUK). The UK’s largest charity, and a linchpin for cancer research in the UK and globally, CRUK work with the world’s leading academics and researchers in cancer treatment and diagnosis.

We spoke to Dr Matt Burney, Business Development Executive from CRUK’s Commercial Partnership team, and Dr Talisia Quallo, Early Detection and Diagnosis Research Programme Manager, to find out more about why CRUK wanted to be involved.

Q: Can you tell us a bit about CRUK’s involvement in this programme?

We’ll be supporting the academic side of one of the projects that’s chosen for the programme. We’re providing £50,000 of funding to support the academic activities, as well as being able to put forward some of our world-leading CRUK researchers who could potentially collaborate with SMEs on the project.

Q: Why was CRUK keen to be involved in the programme?

In the autumn of last year, we published our Early Detection and Diagnosis of Cancer Roadmap. This is a long-term strategic plan for the future of early detection and diagnosis of cancer in the UK. It was the result of extensive consultation, and our steering committee (led by Professor Chris Whitty) included key leaders within the field. The result was a series of recommendations for how we reach the ideal future, where early detection of cancer is a routine reality.

The strategy is aimed at the whole ecosystem, and one of the key themes is around enabling collaboration between academia and industry to better support development and commercialisation of novel diagnostic technologies. The London Diagnostics programme aligns very well with this key theme from the roadmap.

We’ve also always been very aware that industry needs to play a key role to achieve these aims, and that industry and academia need to work closely and collaboratively to make the breakthroughs we need. As an organisation, we’re keen to open up the lines of communication between academics and the wider ecosystem, to encourage the co-creation of collaborative projects and to ensure novel technologies have the best chance of reaching the clinic. We already support translational focused research through our early detection and diagnosis funding schemes and the activities of our Commercial Partnerships team, but are always keen to do more to forge stronger links between our researchers and industry

Q: What do you think is unique about the London Diagnostics programme?

What’s really interesting to us, is the way the programme builds on and encourages collaboration. In a normal year we fund around £400 million worth of research across the UK, or half of all cancer research undertaken in the UK, so our network of cancer experts includes some of the best in the world. Linking that deep oncology expertise into the wider ecosystem of cancer diagnostics is one of the big drivers for us.

We’ve known MedCity for quite some time now, and have seen the success of previous Collaborate to Innovate schemes. MedCity are great at finding a topic around which academics and industry can work together and co-create innovation, and their experience in networking and matchmaking is clearly very effective.

Yes, that ecosystem approach of getting all the stakeholders around the table, is something that we emphasised in our roadmap as being crucial for progress in early detection and diagnosis. Historically, there hasn’t been enough of that linked up thinking, so seeing the involvement of academics, large diagnostics companies, smaller innovative companies, and other sector experts being built into the programme is really interesting to us. It’s exactly what we think is needed to make gains and truly drive forward progress.

Q: What do you hope CRUK will gain from being involved in the programme?

CRUK has a lot of experience in building therapeutic partnerships. We’re keen to develop that same level of activity in diagnostics and MedTech, and have recently launched a number of partnerships, including the Cancer Tech Accelerator aiming to drive entrepreneurship and development of novel tech-led innovation, and a co-funded Innovate UK integrated diagnostics fund to support multi-modal approaches to new cancer diagnostics. The Collaborate to Innovate scheme is another way of us emphasising our commitment to the importance of diagnostics.

That’s right, we know that patients who are diagnosed early have the best chance of curative treatment and long-term survival. Treatments are more effective when used at earlier stages, so improving diagnostics is essential to delivering CRUK’s ambition of seeing three in four people survive their cancer by 2034.

Another benefit we see is for our researchers to build relationships and new collaborations, and to be exposed to new perspectives, approaches and ideas. We hope the process will also give them a better understanding of the pathway to adoption and clinical utility, which is likely to be extremely valuable to our academics.

Q: What do you see SMEs gaining from the programme?

Obviously, the funding at an important point in their development will be beneficial to SMEs, but this is not the only driver by any means. We foresee the collaborative approach that’s been built into the scheme as being a useful way for SMEs to gain new perspectives and develop different ways of solving problems. Ultimately, this may change the outlook for that SME, as they may shift what they’re trying to achieve with an idea or pivot in a new direction. We’re aware that it can be challenging for SMEs to gain this cross-sector knowledge and collaboration opportunities without schemes like this. We also see this being a valuable opportunity for SMEs to build their network of connections within the research community, which may lead to new collaborative projects in the future.

Q: Are there any types of innovations that you think CRUK will be particularly excited to see?

We’ll be excited to see anything that proposes an innovative and novel way of driving forward earlier detection of cancer. We’re keen to understand how we can integrate different modalities of detection, and how data can be used to understand what the next steps for that patient should be, what their risk levels are and how the disease might progress for them.

Solutions that facilitate triage testing at the earliest stage, in primary care, would be very interesting to us. We’re hoping to see ideas that are holistic and multidisciplinary in their approach, integrating existing tests, new technology, data, possibly things like wearables… Ideally, anything we haven’t seen before!

Q: What do you see as the big trends, challenges or opportunities for cancer diagnostics in general?

That early detection and diagnosis is a priority area that we think has transformative potential for patient outcomes for cancer.

We’ve seen from COVID-19 how important diagnostics are and what can be achieved when we take an ecosystem approach in an agile, collaborative way.

With that comes challenges or opportunities (depending on how you look at it) for large pharmaceutical companies. Traditionally, these companies have been good at developing drugs to treat late-stage disease. But if we’re successful in shifting towards earlier detection, then they will need to adapt their business models to fit this rapidly transforming landscape. We’re seeing some companies already thinking about this, which is encouraging, as there is a tremendous opportunity to transform outcomes for cancer patients.

Find out more

We will be opening applications for Collaborate to Innovate London Diagnostics on Tuesday 1st June, 12.00 GMT. Applications close Weds 30th June, 17.00 GMT.

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