Innovate UK’s 2020 pharmaceutical R&D grants prioritised projects addressing the current public health emergency, Covid-19, according to data from GlobalData’s Pharma Intelligence Center. Innovate UK is the UK’s innovation agency, which is part of the UK Research and Innovation, a non-departmental public body funded by a grant-in-aid from the UK Government. The agency runs multiple grant competitions throughout each year that aim to address current industry challenges and focus on supporting science and technology innovations that can drive productivity and economic growth in the UK. In line with the agency’s aim of investing in early-stage innovation projects, the majority of pharmaceutical R&D grants awarded in 2020 were for early drug discovery research, rather than drug development with an investment close to £1m ($1.29m). The awardees were predominantly micro / small-size companies that often are the source of the most radical innovations.
Infectious Disease was the top therapy that won the most number of Innovate UK pharmaceutical R&D grants in 2020 (Figure 1), over 80% of which were Covid-19-related early drug discovery projects, aiming to identify new treatment options for Covid-19. Notably, a significant proportion of the Covid-19 projects are employing innovative technologies for drug discovery, including artificial intelligence and computational drug screening methods. Vaccines and drugs in development for Covid-19 can be tracked on GlobalData’s Coronavirus Disease 2019 (Covid-19) dashboard.
Oncology came second (Figure 1), securing over £400,000 in funding for two projects. The oncology projects being led by CytoSeek Ltd and Elasmogen Ltd are both focused on developing therapeutics for solid cancers. In collaboration with the University of Birmingham, CytoSeek is developing a new class of chimeric antigen receptor (CAR)-T cell that can attack solid tumours. Elasmogen Ltd is developing toxic drug conjugates based on its proprietary soloMER technology (soloMER Drug-Conjugates) for delivery into solid tumours.
Figure 1: Innovate UK 2020 R&D Grants by Therapy Area and Grant Value
Source: GlobalData, Pharma Intelligence Center, News database and https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/innovate-uk (Accessed: 3 September 2020)
Note: The chart only shows grants that specified a Therapy Area of interest, and excludes two grants that did not specify a therapy area.
The pharmaceutical R&D projects were funded through Innovate UK’s ‘business-led innovation in response to global disruption’ competition in April, which invested up to £20m in innovation projects, and Covid-19 Continuity grants competition in May–June, both of which were launched to provide support to UK businesses through the pandemic disruption. All non-Covid-19 projects were funded through the Covid-19 continuity grants competition launched to help existing Innovate UK grants holders continue their work through the current coronavirus challenge. It offered up to £90m to micro, small, or medium-sized enterprises (SME) and third sector organisations.
UK-registered biopharmaceutical companies with commercially viable, innovative or disruptive ideas can now compete for Innovate UK’s latest ‘open grants funding’ programme, SMART grants, which is running from August to November, where they can apply for funding of between £25,000 and £2,000,000. The competition offers to invest up to £25m in R&D innovations that can significantly impact the UK economy.
In November 2019, Prime Minister Boris Johnson pledged to double government R&D spending to £18bn within five years as part of a ‘new wave of economic growth’. This will be essential to continue to support R&D innovations in the UK post-Brexit should the UK not get a place in the 2021–2027 EU research programme, Horizon Europe.