Martin Hunt

A call for medtech visionaries to revolutionise mental health treatment options


Martin Hunt

Date: 11 January 2017

A call for medtech visionaries to revolutionise mental health treatment options

Medical technology is life saving and can be life changing for the better, demonstrated by numerous products and interventions underway with NIHR i4i funding.

For people living with mental health conditions however, the potential of medical technologies to improve lives and treatment options has so far been limited. But, with momentum building in the field of mental health as highlighted this week by the Prime Minister’s pledge to change attitudes towards mental health, attention is now on the up in the UK, and rightfully so.

I’m delighted we are complementing this shift in focus through new NIHR funding. The NIHR i4i Challenge Award, launching today (11 January), could lead to the implementation of technologies that could transform lives for people living with mental health conditions.

The i4i programme is a unique one. It’s a translational fund, set up to find working prototypes of innovative technologies within the healthcare sector that require further funding to finalise development. The ultimate goal is patient benefit resulting from innovative technologies moving into the clinic with i4i support.

We fund research that has progressed to the stage where it demonstrates proof-of-concept. Our intention is that, by de-risking projects through i4i funding, they become attractive to follow-on funders to invest in the commercialisation of these technologies for wider benefit. The collaborations we support make this an achievable goal with several i4i success stories to date.

We’re now seeking i4i Challenge Award proposals for technology-based products in mental health. There is a huge unmet clinical need in mental health treatment and we want to support innovative ideas that can broach this. We see this Challenge Award as enabling technologies that will find their way, fully developed, into the NHS to have an impact on the patient pathway.

With this in mind an NHS Trust or NHS service provider must be involved as a collaborator to facilitate clinical adoption and projects must include a first in man or later stage clinical trial. I4i is a collaborative funding programme and applications must include at least two from SMEs, Higher Education Institutions (HEI) and NHS Trusts, with any of these organisations able to lead the project. As with our product development awards funding stream, an industrial partner is seen as being a vital contributor to successful translation

There’s no limit to what can be proposed as a solution to our mental health challenge. Technology is continually advancing and although we’re already starting to encounter some really useful apps and websites in the mental health space, I’m very keen to see what other groundbreaking solutions come forward with the potential to make a real difference for patients.

We don’t know exactly what applications we’ll get. They might address how technology can play a role in NHS services for mental health patients, or provide accurate diagnosis, ensure early intervention or effectively monitor disease. But as long as the proposal fits within the remit then anything is possible.

We’re putting all our eggs into one basket with this one, with no limits on funds and only one winner. We’ve also increased the usual i4i funding period from three to five years. Why? Mental health is a new landscape for us and we recognise that we need to adapt our usual terms to attract new thinking on a pioneering scale. We hope the changes we’ve made will allow for this.

So, we’re not looking for incremental changes to technologies in current clinical use. We want to see a disruptive technology with the potential to transform treatment and care in the NHS. In line with this we’ve made the decision to commit to one project that we can fully support rather than compromising with several.

Our Challenge Award provides an opportunity to make a real difference in the field of mental health research. I encourage you to be ambitious with the solution.

Martin Hunt, NIHR i4i Programme Director

Martin has over 30 years of experience in the medtech industry in large multi-nationals, start-ups and public companies.

The NIHR i4i Challenge Award launched 11 January. For further information about the call visit the Challenge Award competition page.

The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the NIHR, NHS or the Department of Health and Social Care.
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    Insight from i4i Programme Director, Martin Hunt, on the 2017 i4i Challenge Award in mental health that launched today.
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