£180 million Biomedical Catalyst: What do you need to know?

This week I attended a regenerative medicine event in London, organized by the Knowledge Transfer Network (KTN). Amongst some very interesting speakers, workshops and informal small group networking, there was discussion about the UK £180 million Biomedical Catalyst.

What do you need to know?

The Biomedical Catalyst is a joint program between the Medical Research Council (MRC) and Technology Strategy Board. It was announced by David Cameron in December 2011 and is now live. What makes this interesting compared to many other previous soft-funding options available in the UK, is that its targeted at (from the KTN website):

“UK businesses (SMEs) and academics looking to develop innovative solutions to healthcare challenges either individually or in collaboration.”

So, its much more geared towards actionable healthcare solutions, and seems to have far fewer constraints than previous types of government funding. This is a good thing – let the money follow to the best ideas.

Key features include the following:

1. Its available from early to late stage projects. Depending on the stage, these are called “Feasibility Stage”, “Early Stage” and “Late Stage” awards.For commercial applications, they are broken down as:

  • Feasibility stage awards are for up to 12 months duration, with a maximum grant of £150k, and can fund 75% of the project (i.e. you need to find the other 25% from elsewhere). It is to assess the commercial viability of an early-stage scientific idea.
  • Early stage awards are for up to 3 years, maximum grant of £2.4 million, and require 50% matched funding. The purpose is to establish proof of concept in a model system (e.g. lab scale, early prototyping, pre-clinical).
  • Late stage awards, as for early stage,  are for up to 3 years, maximum grant of £2.4 million and require 50% matched funding. The purpose is for initial proof of concept, prototyping, clinical phases I and II, market testing.

2. Its available across the healthcare technology spectrum, including medical devices, diagnostics, drugs, eHealth, mHealth, regenerative medicine, stratified medicine.This again is good, since useful and innovative solutions can come from a multitude of sources.

3. In practical terms, it is always open for business. Due to internal resource constraints, opportunities will be assessed three times a year. Essentially they’re bunched together, with quite a bit of outsourcing to experts (commercial, academic, technical, clinical) to enable due diligence and filtering of opportunities. But it does mean you can get in touch about your specific opportunity at any time.

4. The funding is in non-dilutive, grant form. This can be a great way to bolster other sources of commercial funding (i.e. angel, VC).

5. The awards are NOT for early stage basic science. Whilst its important to fund such research there are other sources for this. The Biomedical Catalyst awards are targeting actionable opportunities that could lead to tangible human health benefits in the foreseeable future. Good!

Why is it good for UK plc and healthcare?

Stepping back a minute from the mechanics, let’s look at a couple of reasons why this new funding mechanism is such a good idea.

It enables meaningful funding opportunities that can help validate your technology or program. Validation is necessary right across the development spectrum – from scientific, clinical and right through to commercial validation. Often times, investors like an idea or concept, but they want a project de-risked. This type of funding can enable quite significant de-risking at not huge cost per project.

By having a requirement for matched funding, this introduces a very useful element of commercial discipline. Biomedical Catalyst may not be taking shares or warrants in your fledgling company, but they do want to know you have the ability and wherewithal to actually build a commercial proposition. Knowing that you are able to attract funding from possibly much tougher investors gives YOUR project validation to Biomedical Catalyst.

Finally, by actually giving it the name Biomedical Catalyst, it doesn’t sound like a policy document or rule line in a piece of legislation (just think of all those other soft-funding acronyms – arghh!). The name gives it a brand, it does what it says on the tin, and people can remember it and talk about it. Maybe this will set off the fireworks?

If you want to read more, you can go to the Biomedical Catalyst page on the KTN website. Well worth a read.

This post is by Raman Minhas


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