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FAST innovation to improve the health and wealth of the nation

Published: 05 December 2022

Professor Mike Lewis, Director of NIHR's Invention for Innovation (i4i) Programme, reflects on this year’s FAST funding pilot and the projects it’s funded.

Innovation does not always happen according to a timetable or cyclical pattern that fits with research funders’ typical processes. That’s why this year we tried something pioneering - a rapid response funding scheme called FAST (Funding At the Speed of Innovation) that would help innovators move rapidly forward to the next stage of development. The response was enthusiastic, and we’ve now awarded just over £1 million in funding across 25 diverse projects to help accelerate innovation and support tomorrow’s medical technologies. We're excited to see new applications for the next pilot launching in December 2022.

We designed FAST to provide funding to help researchers and innovators answer a single question that was holding back their innovation from moving forward to the next stage. We committed to a quick turn-around from application submission to decision, within weeks rather than months, to provide innovators with accelerated funding that would plug an evidence gap and reach a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer without further delay. Answering this question could prove to be an important stepping stone that allows an organisation to apply for a grant elsewhere in the life science ecosystem, or even engage with investors.

The FAST application process itself was designed to be simple - applicants only had to answer three questions with a short word limit. The information applicants supplied was reviewed by external assessors with relevant technical, clinical and public and patient expertise. We went into the pilot not knowing how it would be received, but it became apparent there was a real appetite for a new mechanism that allowed innovations to be quickly explored, or to fail fast if they are simply not viable.

The FAST funding pilot ran from April to June 2022 and we were able to have funded 25 projects. Applicants to FAST were from across SMEs, academic institutions and NHS providers, and projects were funded all across England. The questions that innovators needed to answer included short market research validations, rapid user-centred design and prototyping, and health economic evaluations.

A selection of FAST-funded projects

Lumino, one of the companies to receive FAST funding, illustrates the need and the opportunity, as the technology aims to improve access to cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) for helping women cope with the symptoms of menopause. The funding will help them to do further testing on a personalised app-based programme and produce a more sophisticated version that will enable them to attract further investment.

Other funded teams are aiming to show that their technology is suitable for patients and easy to use. Beautiful Voice is developing software to help people with neurological conditions such as stroke to access speech therapy at home. The team wants to expand their evidence that the software is helpful and practical for patients to use, to allow them to move the project forward.

On the other side, 52 North Health’s device is in the final stages of development. Neutrocheck is a breakthrough finger-prick device that could help to quickly detect sepsis in people undergoing chemotherapy treatment. FAST funding will support development of the accompanying training materials for healthcare professionals who will be using the device, co-designed with patients and professionals, to ultimately seek device approvals for use in the NHS.

This small selection of projects funded by FAST demonstrate the range of potential innovation that is waiting for an opportunity within the life science ecosystem. Crucially, FAST is allowing innovators to make a pivotal next step in their journey to develop their technology so it can bring benefits to patients. Many of us recognise that innovation in science and technology is the way to grow the economy, but innovation in the life science ecosystem is also the way to improve the health of the nation. The more innovation we can deliver, the more we can have an impact in helping everyone to lead healthier lives.

Find out more about the Invention for Innovation (i4i) Programme and read the full list of FAST-funded projects below. 

List of funded i4i FAST projects

Dr Hugh Harvey, Hardian Limited
Budget Impact Modelling of AI-assisted early fracture detection in the emergency department
Developing a budget impact model of a new artificial intelligence system to detect bone fractures from X-rays, to help NHS trusts understand the cost implications of this new technology.

Ms Becky Cotton, Hello Lumino Limited
Improving menopause treatment: Beta prototype development of a CBT-based digital therapeutic
Developing a more advanced prototype of a digital system to deliver cognitive behavioural therapy for women experiencing symptoms of menopause.

Dr Charles Nduka, Emteq Limited
Context-Aware Multimodal Pervasive Sensing (CAMPS) of behaviour in daily life
Testing sensor-enabled glasses to find out if they can detect changes in mental health conditions in people with depression and bipolar disorders in the home.

Dr Andre Hallack, Beautiful Voice Limited
Usability study of an online speech therapy platform for stroke survivors and people with Parkinson's
Finding out if an online speech therapy platform is usable for people who have survived stroke and those with Parkinson’s, and whether they continue using it daily over a period of 12 months.

Dr Saif Ahmad, Neutrocheck Ltd
Developing user interface of a novel point-of-care medical device to identify chemotherapy patients at risk of neutropenic sepsis
Developing instructions and training materials for a finger-prick device to spot chemotherapy patients who are at risk of developing neutropenic sepsis, a condition where white blood cell numbers get too low, causing an overwhelming infection that can be fatal.

Professor Chris Gale, University of Leeds
Future Innovations in Novel Detection of Atrial Fibrillation (FIND-AF): Enabling regulatory approval for use of the FIND-AF machine learning algorithm in the NHS
Achieving regulatory requirements for machine learning software that can identify people with a high risk of irregular heartbeat by using their electronic patient health records

Dr Benjamin Davies, MoveMed Limited
Development of a Quality Management System for MoveMed, a remote monitoring solution for neurological disease, to enable clinical evaluation
Using smartphone games to detect and monitor changes in neurological functions like dexterity, balance and tremor - developing the system so it can be integrated into UK clinical trials.

Mr Alberto Casonato Longo, 3D METAL PRINTING LTD
Patient-specific closing wedge femoral osteotomy
Testing a prototype 3D printed device to help surgeons deliver a knee surgery procedure called high tibial osteotomy, when bones in the knee are cut and reshaped to reduce pressure on the knee joint caused by osteoarthritis.

Professor Timothy Constandinou, Imperial College of Science, Technology and Medicine
Establishing translational opportunities for implantable brain computer interfaces in the UK ecosystem
Producing a report to understand the potential for implantable brain computer interfaces for patients with severe paralysis in the UK, in assisting with communication, movement and rehabilitation.

Professor Antoniya Georgieva, University of Oxford
Pocket CTGs - a novel digital platform for midwives and obstetricians
Developing an artificial intelligence system to help midwives and obstetricians interpret information from monitoring devices that track babies’ heartbeats and mothers’ contractions during labour, to prevent babies being deprived of oxygen during birth.

Dr Clare Lankester, Organ Preservation Solutions Limited
Detailed exploration of the market need for a novel solution for the hypothermic machine perfusion of abdominal organs
Understanding the need for an improved way to preserve organs for transplant by cooling and supplying blood and nutrients, so that more patients can receive donor organs.

Mr Philip Holland, South Tees Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust
Cadaveric Study of a Novel Shoulder Stabilisation Device
Testing a new titanium implant designed to prevent shoulder dislocation in people at high risk.

Professor Nicholas S Peters, Imperial College of Science, Technology and Medicine
Prospective Longitudinal evaluation of AI-ECG in a Newly diagnosed Heart Failure (PLANE-HF)
Testing a ‘smart stethoscope’ that uses artificial intelligence to monitor newly diagnosed heart failure, to see if the device can be used by patients in the home.

Dr Lorin Gresser, Dem Dx Limited
A bespoke Pharmacist-Clinical Assessment Platform (Ph-CAP) for minor illnesses, designed for and with Community Pharmacists
Adapting a support tool for pharmacists to help guide them in assessing patients and suggesting which tests or follow-up to recommend, for 50 minor illnesses covered by community pharmacist services.

Mr Tet Yap, Guy's and St Thomas' NHS Foundation Trust
Assess the feasibility of an AI-enhanced Urology Triage Platform (AI-UTP) to augment clinical capabilities of front line Junior Medical and Allied Healthcare Professional staff
Improving an artificial intelligence platform to help health professionals to understand how patients with urinary problems need to be treated, and which people need to be sent for further tests.

Dr Agnieszka Janeczek, Renovos Biologics Limited
"Voice of customer" market research for Renovite nanoclay product
Working with surgeons to understand the best way to use a nanoclay product designed to speed up bone healing, to help repair damage to the spine.

Mr Moyeen Ahmad, Vitacam Ltd
Evaluation of the potential cost effectiveness of applying remote photoplethysmography to the facial regions of patients to screen for atrial fibrillation in a diverse population
Investigating the cost-effectiveness of an imaging device called Vitacam that uses video of a patient’s face to help spot irregular heart rhythms.

Dr Kerry Gaskin, University of Worcester
Leveraging technology for the assessment and monitoring of fragile infants with complex congenital heart disease in the community
Developing a smartphone system to empower parents of infants with complex cardiac conditions to make life saving decisions wherever they are, using information and guidance, held on their phones.

Mr Jay Self, University of Southampton
Exploiting human-centred AI and gamification to improve compliance with Amblyopia (Lazy eye) treatment
Testing a new way to use games on mobile devices to encourage children with amblyopia (lazy eye) to use their eye-patch on their better-seeing eye, helping to improve outcomes in treating the condition and prevent long-term vision loss.

Mr Andrew Mahoney, SMARTR HEALTH LTD
Celsium relative temperature change (RTC) algorithmic refinement project
Developing a new wearable device to accurately measure temperature changes in the body, to help detect conditions including sepsis, infections and hypothermia.

Dr Jordi Asher, University of Essex
Proof of concept - Assistive technology for visual field loss
Testing virtual reality software to help people with visual field loss to move around independently. Visual field loss is when part of the field of vision is gone due to brain damage caused by a stroke or other brain injury.

Mr Paul Hodge, Ergo Figure Limited
Patient and Public Involvement and Engagement (PPIE) to inform design refinement and regulatory plan, including feasibility testing of innovative wearable device to monitor ankle swelling as an early warning of worsening Heart Failure
Working with patients to develop a wearable device that can monitor ankle swelling as a way to detect when heart failure is getting worse.

Dr Alexander Patto, University of Cambridge
A point-of-care diagnostic for vitamin-k deficiency in neonates
Developing a test to check for vitamin K deficiency in newborn babies who are at high risk of the condition, to help prevent internal bleeding that can lead to death and permanent disabilities.

Professor Stephen Bustin, Anglia Ruskin University
Development of sub-20 minute PCR-based diagnostic assays for a current point of care testing device
Developing a fast PCR test for COVID and other infectious diseases that can be used by NHS staff, to speed up testing and help control future disease outbreaks.

Dr Saahil Mehta, PLEXAA LTD
Regulatory gap analysis of the Plexaa preconditioning device
Late-stage product development for Plexaa, a wearable device that warms the skin on the breast before reconstructive surgery, increasing blood flow and reducing the risk of complications such as the need for follow-up surgery.

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