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How to optimise NIHR support for your healthtech innovation

On this page, you can grow your understanding of how we can support you at each stage of your healthtech innovation research journey.

If you’re seeking support for a different type of research, visit our NIHR support for the life sciences industry page to discover our full range of services and support, or contact us to discuss your needs.

Contact the Industry team

We are funded by the UK government to work collaboratively with the life science industry to support you to design and deliver your research within the UK health and social care environment.

Let’s take a look at a typical research journey for a life sciences company developing a medical device, digital technology, or diagnostic, collectively known as healthtech. We support healthtech companies across all stages of product development: from identifying unmet clinical needs to designing and running clinical studies.

Along the way we will explore where our support can help you to achieve your goals.

We have divided our support into 3 key stages.

Planning your trial: Connecting with expertise

I’m not familiar with the UK or the NIHR - where do I start?

Your NIHR support begins with our Life Sciences Industry Information Service. Our dedicated NIHR Industry team has extensive knowledge and experience of the UK research ecosystem and support for healthtech innovators. During this free, personal consultation we will discuss your proposed research and advise on the NIHR’s world-leading services, expertise, funding programmes and facilities available to you. From here, you can formulate your plan of which support to access and when.

I need input from clinical experts to help plan my research

The next step on your research journey is all about planning. When you apply for regulatory approval for your research, you will need to make a compelling case and be able to demonstrate that you have tested your ideas with the experts in the field. First you need to find enthusiastic experts who are just as keen as you to innovate to improve care and quality of life.

Our free Expertise Partnering Service works as a matchmaking service between the life sciences industry and clinical, care, and research expertise across the NHS, NIHR and wider UK research landscape. We can connect you with relevant key opinion leaders who can advise on the feasibility and verify the clinical need and market potential for your innovation.

If you are planning to apply for research funding at this stage, we can also help you to find and connect with potential co-applicants (this may be required to make your application eligible for some funding programmes).

We can guide you through all stages of your research journey, including connecting you with facilities, health data services, patient recruitment pathways and more. Many companies will use the service multiple times during their research journey for different reasons each time.

Preparing for delivery: Optimising study design and protocol development

I need feedback on my study design

You’ve got input from experts verifying that there is a market for your innovation. Next, you need to design a study to generate evidence to support clinical validation. Our HealthTech Research Centres (HRCs) are centres of expertise which bring together patients, clinicians, researchers, commissioners and industry.

They will help you to build a multi-disciplinary team that will work collaboratively with you to ensure your research generates the evidence you need to support adoption of your medical device, digital technology or diagnostic in the NHS.

They will help you to design your study to ensure it meets patient needs, and is feasible and deliverable in the intended patient population and care setting.

Once you’re connected with one of our HRC teams, they can support you throughout other aspects of your research journey.

This includes: 

  • expert input into device design
  • patient care pathway analysis
  • health economics analysis
  • defining user testing and human factors
  • identifying sites for your study
  • developing patient recruitment strategies
  • advice on regulatory approvals

I need funding to take my research to the next stage

Once you have designed your study and finalised your protocol, we will help you to find the right funding programme. This could be through NIHR funding programmes or other UK funders such as SBRI Healthcare, UKRI, and Innovate UK.

The NIHR Invention for Innovation (i4i) Programme is our flagship translational funding programme for healthtech innovations, which is targeted towards funding breakthrough technologies and de-risking your product. We can support you to identify the right i4i funding award for your innovation, and provide you with guidance on writing a successful funding application.

As mentioned above, your eligibility for NIHR funding programmes may require collaboration with an NHS or academic partner. By now we will have helped you identify potential collaborators (through our Expertise Partnering Service) and you should be well on your way to confirming your perfect partner.

If you opt to apply to an NIHR funding programme, you can access our Research Support Service which provides advice and guidance to help you prepare your funding application. To maximise this support, we will connect you with this team before you start your application.

I need access to health data or patient samples to conduct my research

One of the UK’s biggest selling points is our NHS, an unparalleled source of rich, longitudinal health data which presents rapidly expanding opportunities for health research. We can help you to access a range of health research activity databases, patient samples, and health data resources. We will support you to explore the different options and identify the right resources to support your innovation type and therapeutic area.

Trial delivery and next steps

I need sites to conduct my research

If your research requires physical facilities or actual participants to generate evidence, then you need to identify and engage investigators and sites to conduct your research. If you are planning a single site study, then you may already have interest from the investigators or sites that you have connected with via the Expertise Partnering Service or HRCs. If you are planning a multi-site study, and need different or additional sites, we can help.

The NIHR funds different types of research facilities. If you are developing a healthtech innovation, you may need specialist facilities such as our Clinical Research Facilities (CRFs) which are equipped with cutting-edge equipment and expertise. CRFs are ideally suited to delivering Phase 1/2 studies, but can also deliver smaller late phase trials. CRFs are closely linked to our networks of expertise: HealthTech Research CentresBiomedical Research Centres and Translational Research Collaborations. Experts from these networks in different locations may also express an interest in delivering your trial.

If your research requires evidence to be generated in a wider care or real world setting, we can help there too. Our UK-wide site identification service can help you engage sites and investigators to deliver your trial throughout the wider NHS, including primary care and social care settings. Read how we supported Healum -a small MedTech company - to find a GP site to trial a mobile app for patients with type 2 diabetes.

I need to identify suitable participants to take part in my research

NIHR-funded facilities and experts are embedded in our NHS and are all connected by the NIHR. Once you have selected your sites, the local teams will begin to identify and engage volunteers who are suitable for your study, and who could benefit from taking part. If you have a specific recruitment strategy, they will explore how to implement it locally and may even suggest how to improve it.

My trial was successful - I want to help to access the UK market

Once you have generated adequate evidence, you will be looking to gain regulatory approvals to access the UK market.

We can help by connecting you with the relevant organisations such as MHRA and NICE to support your innovation's journey through regulatory approval and health technology assessment, to support market access in the UK through the NHS Innovation Service.

Alternatively, it could be that you need further funding to take your innovation to the next stage.

Either way, our Industry team will be happy to help.

Want to know more or ready to get started?

Our Industry team is waiting to hear from you. The earlier you get in touch - the more you will benefit from our support.

Contact the Industry team