1. Low cost, flexible, proof of market funding: A good practice guide for successful innovation

    Fail fast or prove it early: Low cost, flexible, proof of market funding for successful innovation.

    This free good practice guide introduces a low-cost funding award scheme for due diligence and de-risking at the earliest stages of innovation.

    Grow MedTech’s first good practice guide explains how by investing small amounts of money into proof of market awards, opportunities can be de-risked so that the time of academics and knowledge exchange and commercialisation (KEC) practitioners – and university budgets – are not wasted in the short to long term future.

    Use the interactive guide to proof of market awards

    View and use our accessible, interactive PDF guide:

    animation of people sharing ideas around a table

    animation of people sharing ideas around a table

    Alternatively you can access our fully accessible text-based version of the good practice guide.

    Proof of market awards toolkit for KEC practitioners

    We have provided examples of the documentation we used to run our scheme for reference, which can be adapted by using your own branding and refining for your sector.

    Guidance for applicants (opens new tab)

    The guidance document sets out our proof of market scope, eligibility, assessment criteria and how to apply. Our guidance document was hosted on the Grow MedTech website for ease of access for applicants.

    Application form (opens new tab)

    The application form provides an example of the questions asked of the academic team to be assessed for suitability for funding.

    Scoring criteria and scoring sheet (opens new tab)

    The scoring criteria and scoring sheet outlines how we assessed applications for their suitability for the funding.

    Request for quotation template (opens new tab)

    The request for quotation template sets out the framework which our Technology Innovation Managers used to identify and contract expertise in medtech development to support funded projects.

    Final project report form (opens new tab)

    This template sets out a framework for reporting project outputs and outcomes, future plans, and reflections from the academic team on what went well, what could be improved and on the funding scheme process.

    A note to knowledge exchange and commercialisation leaders and practitioners

    As a Knowledge Exchange and Commercialisation (KEC) practitioner in a Research Innovation Office (RIO) you play an important role in identifying the most promising projects for translation from a portfolio of potential opportunities. You may have academics heavily invested in their ideas and technologies, and excited about their potential applications and ability to change the world.

    As a KEC practitioner you understand that to introduce and embed an idea or innovation into industry is a highly complex balance of many factors. Often, due to resource constraints, not all ideas presented to the research innovation office can be progressed or introduced to an industry partner, so it’s vital that the right level of due diligence is carried out to identify and support the most promising projects.

    In our experience, by investing small amounts of money into proof of market awards, opportunities can be de-risked so that the time of academics and KEC practitioners – and university budgets – are not wasted in the short to long term future.

    10 reasons to introduce low cost, flexible proof of market awards

    A fully accessible text-based version of the good practice guide is available on our website.

  2. Developing skills through knowledge exchange: Rachel Young

    In this Q&A, Rachel Young, Co-Lead Neurological Rehabilitation Research and Innovation Programme/AWRC, discusses how our funding facilitated the collaborations she needed to progress her technology.

    Project summary: Shapemaster are a UK manufacturer of ‘power assisted exercise’ equipment for people who feel uncomfortable within a traditional gym environment, such as those living with a wide range of long term health conditions. The machines have the potential to provide an exercise solution for people with moderate and severe neurological impairments. Our project aimed to co-design and evaluate an interactive user interface and effort detection programme to align power assisted exercise with published guidelines for people with stroke; generate real-time visual feedback on exercise performance; and quantify user effort. In the future, the project outputs could be potentially translated into intelligent data analytics to create individualised exercise programmes, accessible through a cloud based system.

    Collaborators: Shapemaster Global Ltd, Grow MedTech, Sheffield Hallam University and the Advanced Wellbeing Research Centre, The AWRC Wellbeing Accelerator.

    Q. How have you found working with co-development partners and what benefits has it brought to your technology?

    Together our teams have developed shared goals, allowing us to ensure our academic aims are met, as well as optimising commercial value and real world use. Working with a business has helped us pus our goals towards commercialisation of our research and helped us to look at the research from a business lead approach, which usually means getting things to market speedily.

    We’ve also developed collaborations internally – with the Centre for Sports Engineering Research and the Department of Allied Health Professions.

    The project is an exemplar of the AWRC vision to design and develop technologies which enable movement for complex populations.

    A broad range of participants have contributed to the co-design and testing of the new programme and this has strengthened the network of service users and collaborators connected to the University.

    Q. Where was your career and project when Grow Medtech got involved?

    I was half way through a part time doctoral research programme when we applied for the Grow MedTech funding. I was an experienced neurological physiotherapist with 25 years’ experience in Higher Education and practice. On completion of my PhD I plan to follow an early career research pathway with a specific focus on the codesign of rehabilitation technologies.

    Q. How did Grow MedTech and Translate MedTech help?

    The Grow MedTech PoF funding enabled acceleration of my programme of research and facilitated collaboration with the research community at Sheffield Hallam University.

    Q. How has your career developed during your project?

    By working with external industry collaborators and service users, it has enabled me to develop skills in co-design, data collection, data analysis and usability testing.

    It has supported me to complete data collection for my doctoral programme and accelerated progress towards PhD completion.

    I have had the opportunity to collaborate with industry and engineering to develop a new technology which will improve outcomes for people with stroke and other clinical populations – and I find that really rewarding.

    Q. What is the most unique or interesting thing about this project?

    This project really shows how co-design and usability testing methods can be delivered through remote technologies. The team were pro-active in navigating around the challenges created by the Covid-19 pandemic.

    It’s also been interesting to work on the digitalisation of an established commercial product to enhance its market potential – in third sector and health care settings. The quantification of user effort will enable future efficacy research; and translation of the programme into a cloud based data analytics system will enable Shapemaster to catch up with its market competitors.

    Q. How did you first get involved in your specialist area? What sparked the idea?

    I have been collaborating with Shapemaster as a clinical advisor since 2013, and exploration of power assisted exercise was the focus of my PhD.

    At the start of my PhD it was my intention to conduct an efficacy trial with the equipment. However, early findings showed the need for improved software and quantification of user effort to ensure readiness for clinical trials.

    Q. What inspires you?

    Finding solutions for exercise engagement amongst people with complex impairment.

    Q. What impact do you hope your work will have on the world?

    I hope I can be part of finding a solution for the 80 per cent of the stroke population who don’t engage in regular exercise or physical activity..

  3. Developing skills through knowledge exchange: Mr Viswadeep Sarangi

    In this Q&A, Mr Viswadeep Sarangi, Postdoctoral Research Associate at the University of York, discusses how he used our secondment schemes and funding opportunities to further his research.

    Project summary: We are developing a way to monitor conditions that affect how a person moves and walks (gait analysis), such as Osteoarthritis. Our Artificial Intelligence (AI)-based diagnosis and rehabilitation monitoring system will be capable of detecting abnormalities in how a patient is walking and use this information to diagnose certain conditions and let healthcare professionals monitor their patient’s progress over time. We hope to have readily deployable software, which will let the clinician capture someone’s gait using a simple webcamera, extract the 3D body pose from the capture and analyse it; using simple, easy to use software.

    Collaborators: Dr. Nicholas Shenker, Consultant Rheumatologist, Addenbrookes NHS Hospital, Cambridge, Dr. Thomas Stone, Senior Clinical Scientist, Addenbrookes NHS Hospital, Cambridge, Dr. Mark Andrews, Orthopaedic Surgeon, Scarborough Hospital, Scarborough, Prof. Elan Barenholtz, Associate Professor, Dept. of Psychology, Florida Atlantic University, Florida, US, Dr. William Hahn, Center for Complex Systems and Brain Sciences, Florida Atlantic University, Florida, US, Elsje de Villiers, Reseach Physiotherapist at CUH, Dr. Greg Quinn, Orthopeadic Surgeon, York Teaching Hospital, Matthew Bowes and Joanne Thompson, senior physiotherapists at YTH

    Q. How have you found working with co-development partners and what benefits has it brought to your technology?

    Working with so many surgeons, doctors and senior physiotherapists has helped me understand exactly how an ideal solution should be developed to ensure ease-of-use and minimal disruptions to their existing practices. The partners have been extremely kind and understanding, while I was following them around observing their practices for multiple days.

    Observing the clinical practitioners helped me understand the importance of a well-developed solution with an intuitive UI and easy UX. I have begun appreciating the notion that, a solutions needs to be usable as well as be technically advanced, to create real impact.

    It has been extremely insightful working with the project’s co-development partners, my contact with so many healthcare professionals allowing me to merge their clinical insights with my technical expertise so that we can make the system clinically-relevant. It definitely shaped the build of the technology, with real-time clinical feedback enabling us to optimise the system.

    The project has recently benefited from an Innovate UK grant and this has brought industry experts into the project development. I have learnt so much from industry people who are actually developing these sorts of technologies, for example how to stand out from the competition and dominate the market. It has been an amazing learning curve.

    Q. Where was your career and project when Grow Medtech got involved?

    I have been involved with Translate since the beginning of my PhD. I was still pursuing my PhD when Grow MedTech got involved. This provided me with the perfect opportunity to take the insights and discoveries I had made in my PhD and start creating a tangible product around it so that clinicians could use it in their everyday practice.

    When I first got involved with the project, I had just finalised the techniques but it was research-based and not streamlined – certainly not ready for a commercial application. I was not expecting to be in a position to start the commercial development myself – the Translate and Grow MedTech support came at just the right time and was a perfect match for my own ambitions. Without their intervention I would have finished my PhD and written an academic paper for someone else to take on the commercialisation.

    Q. How did Grow MedTech and Translate MedTech help?

    I have received multiple secondments from Translate, to help me travel both inside UK (Cambridge, York) and outside UK (Florida, USA) to understand clinical practices in both countries and design a solution which can help address both needs, while making sure to be intuitive enough so that any clinician from any other geographic location can use it without any major difficulties.

    I was given the opportunity to make many clinical contacts that I wouldn’t have otherwise, including the chance to shadow a surgeon and physiotherapist at York Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust for a few days. I noted what tools they were using to do their job and could see firsthand how we would need to design our own tech so that they wouldn’t have to learn to use new systems (it was abundantly clear to me that they had no time for this). I had the same opportunity in the Florida clinic and asked the clinicians what they were currently using and it was illuminating to see the similarities and contrasts between the UK and US healthcare systems.

    I’ve also received multiple awards from Translate for best speaker and best poster presentation in conferences, for my PhD research.

    Grow MedTech funding has supported the early commercial development, with two Proof of Market awards which allowed us to gather market intelligence, competitor analysis and industry insights. I have been able to continue to work on the project after my PhD, as one of the University of York Grow MedTech-funded PDRAs.

    Q. How has your career developed during your project?

    I have witnessed and been in the forefront of the translational journey from an idea, through research, validation, implementation and finally deployment as a commercial application. This experience has been invaluable. I am now confident of my skills both in core research, academia, as well as, in the industry with my software engineering skillset.

    The product we (me and Dr. Adar Pelah) have developed in less than a year is now ready for market and is currently being used in multiple clinics both in UK and US, for conducting clinical trials.

    As well as my PhD, I have gained all of that knowledge and put it to use into building the commercial application. The crux of this is the strong ‘Translational’ focus and this has been a huge jump from my ‘ad hoc’ academic approach in the beginning to now working with a commercial team on a clinically-relevant product. I have witnessed and experienced the translational journey first-hand.

    Q. What is the most unique or interesting thing about this project?

    We have developed the first-of-its-kind end-to-end solution for capturing someone’s gait using a normal web-camera, apply AI techniques to understand their body pose in 3D space, employ a different set of AI techniques to understand what their body movements mean. Simultaneously providing real-time visual and audio biofeedback to help them recover faster during their physiotherapy.

    Q. How did you first get involved in your specialist area? What sparked the idea?

    I’ve known my PhD supervisor and now my RA PI, Dr. Adar Pelah, for about nine years now. I’ve always been interested in Computer Vision and AI and I came across Dr. Pelah’s work in 2012 when I was actively searching for researchers who were working in the area after completing my Undergraduate Degree and Masters in India. We started working together and never stopped. As soon as AI became popular and the toolsets became accessible, we knew this was the time to take our ideas to market.

    When I was working as a software developer in California, I wanted to use my skillset to help develop medical AI products, as I come from a family of medical doctors.

    Q. What inspires you?

    Building things which help people. I love building tech. I was inspired by my strong family values to help people through medicine – medical AI is the perfect juxtaposition of tech and clinical need..

    Q. What impact do you hope your work will have on the world?

    I hope make medical services easier to access for laypeople. I hope to cut down time required to see a medical professional, and in their absence, provide a technology based solution to access the same services. We are on the brink of releasing a product and selling this as a service.

  4. Supporting regional innovation alongside a national partnership

    Dr Jo Dixon-Hardy is the Director of Grow MedTech based at the University of Leeds. In this article, she discusses how we used our experience in delivering a national programme to benefit innovation at a regional level.

    Grow MedTech is based on a regional partnership and is – as the saying goes – greater than the sum of its parts. By combining the strengths of six universities, the programme can provide far more than any one institution alone.

    But we’ve learned vital lessons from pre-existing national partnerships, in particular the Medical Technologies Innovation and Knowledge Centre (IKC), funded through the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council. Having oversight of both the IKC and Grow MedTech has allowed us to capitalise on shared expertise while leveraging the differences between us, to the advantage of both programmes.

    Technology and geography

    Regional and national partnerships respond to different needs and agendas, but having the IKC and Grow MedTech, with linked programme Translate, running in parallel and seeding across each other, has been of benefit to all.

    A national footprint requires world-class expertise and facilities, usually in a very specific area. The IKC, for example, focuses on innovation in regenerative devices. With this defined technology area, you need to cast your net across a wider geographical area to engage with enough relevant partners – particularly in industry. Partners are also more willing to connect with programmes outside their immediate geography, if doing so gives them access to more specialised knowhow.

    A regional partnership like Grow MedTech has a smaller geographical footprint, and covers a wider range of expertise. Our remit was to build regional capability in knowledge exchange across the six partner universities, working with the 250 or so medtech companies in the region. As a consequence, our technology scope needed to be much broader than the IKC and was open to any kind of medical technology (excluding pharmaceuticals).

    When we widened our scope, we built collaborations with multiple regional initiatives to address gaps in the Grow MedTech skills base. For example, Medipex brings knowledge of and access to the NHS, Medilink represents the Healthcare Technology sector, providing a good understanding of company needs as well as sector specialist expertise in regulation and commercialisation. The Yorkshire and Humber Academic Health Science Network brings a deep understanding of the needs of healthcare systems and the partnerships and interventions required to address these. All three are represented on the Grow MedTech Opportunities Management Panel, as well as engaging extensively in technology development projects and skills development provision. Other organisations, such as the Leeds NIHR Medtech and in vitro diagnostics Co-operatives (MICs), bring sub-sector insights, such as surgical technologies and in vitro diagnostics. They have partnered with Grow MedTech in different ways – for example in joint funding calls, as co-development partners on technology development projects and in training delivery.

    Lessons learned

    The two programmes stimulate each other. We’ve achieved a great deal in three years with Grow MedTech precisely because we had nine years’ experience of delivering the IKC to draw on. Through the IKC, we developed, iterated and tested our innovation processes. Grow MedTech was able to build on this model of experience to develop approaches that would align with the needs of universities and the wider medtech community in the Leeds and Sheffield City regions.

    The IKC demonstrated the importance of bringing businesses together with world-class experts, accelerating the commercial development of new medical technology products and services. By bringing people together from different but complementary disciplines and with different technology development knowhow, the IKC showed how technologies can be de-risked to accelerate the development process. With Grow MedTech, we brought together a team of people – our Technology Innovation Managers – with different but complementary experience of the medtech industry, product development, or innovation management. They were able to use this combined knowledge and expertise to support and mentor academics and their collaborators in de-risking their technologies.

    With each based in one of each of the six partner universities, the team was able to extend its reach into the academic communities of all six universities and the wider industrial networks. In return, this medtech community was able to access the breadth and depth of innovation expertise of all six Technology Innovation Managers. Feedback from academics and their collaborators tells us that this support has made a big difference in identifying the questions they need to address to progress their technologies effectively and efficiently.

    Shared partners

    Partnerships have been important for both the IKC and Grow MedTech. For example, Versus Arthritis first partnered with the IKC in order to access knowledge exchange expertise. We work with them to deliver their medical technology funding calls and manage the funded projects on their behalf. Although they are a national charity, they’ve also been involved with Grow MedTech and Translate, helping us with patient and public involvement, providing secondments and running training workshops.

    Many organisations collaborate in some form with Grow MedTech and with IKC, but the relationship between the programmes’ partners is a special one. Partners are invested in the process: they share accountability and have bought into the vision. They’ve agreed the objectives and they commit to sharing and delivering the targets. Partners are usually involved from the inception of a programme, but some may join later and become truly invested – as Sheffield Hallam have done as a latecomer to Translate.

    Mutual benefit

    It might be natural to assume that only a national programme can have a national profile – but with IKC, Translate and Grow MedTech we have shown how the three activities stimulate and support each other. The IKC has been instrumental in many important strategic regional developments, and our regional programmes have helped us engage on the national and international stage.

    For example, the IKC led the Science Innovation Audit in the Leeds City Region, published by BEIS in 2017, which identified a series of targeted opportunities for developing the Leeds City Region medtech sector and supporting the industry across the UK. As well as increasing awareness of the region’s strength in medtech, it started to cement relationships between key medtech stakeholders in the region, leading to, for example, the signing of a memorandum of understanding in 2019 between the region’s universities, the Association of British Healthtech Industries, the Leeds City Region Enterprise Partnership and West Yorkshire and Harrogate Health and Care Partnership. This MOU commits the signatories to work together to accelerate healthcare innovation.

    Similarly, when the Leeds City region put itself forward to host a global workshop as part of MIT’s Regional Entrepreneurship Acceleration Programme (MIT REAP), it was the regional Translate programme, which provided a tangible demonstrator of how the region was working together, which was instrumental to the to the bid being successful. Leeds went on to host a MIT-REAP workshop which saw regional leaders from eight other countries come to Leeds to work together on innovation and entrepreneurship.

    The connections between IKC, Grow MedTech and Translate have shown us how each of these programmes benefits from the alignment of the others.

  5. Developing skills through knowledge exchange: Dr Anke Brüning-Richardson

    In this Q&A, Dr Anke Brüning-Richardson, Senior Lecturer at the University of Huddersfield, discusses how she used our training and mentoring opportunities to help develop her communication skills outside of academia.

    Project summary: I believe that CCN1 could be a powerful marker of tumour recurrence that is traceable by a simple blood test. I want to test this by using patient samples such as tumour tissue and blood samples. I eventually want to create a blood test that can be used by a GP, or during routine hospital check-ups to detect recurring tumours early before they become too difficult to treat. Ultimately it could improve patient life expectancy as well as quality of life.

    Collaborators: University of Leeds, NHS trusts, Avacta

    Q. How have you found working with co-development partners and what benefits has it brought to your technology?

    Working with our co-development partners in the NHS has been invaluable: we have gained access to valuable samples unavailable to us in academia; insider knowledge; and access to potential clinical trials. I have also improved my communication skills, meaning I can now more effectively communicate with those outside of academia.

    Working with our academic partners in Leeds has also been hugely valuable as we have access to academic knowledge over more than one institution meaning the time to develop a real world prototype rather than theoretical concept has been dramatically reduced.

    Having access to our industrial partner Avacta decreases the time to commercialisation as well as providing an opportunity to further improve communication skills to commercial organisations.

    Q. Where was your career and project when Grow Medtech got involved?

    I feel like I was at the right time of my career to embark in commercialisation. I felt that, in previous institutions there was limited support and some opportunities for translating my work were lost. Grow MedTech really has helped to kick start the commercialisation of my research.

    Q. How did Grow MedTech and Translate MedTech help?

    Through applying for a PoM and a PoF, I have received invaluable guidance and mentoring from the TIMs. This has improved my commercialisation knowledge and helped me gain experience in a different writing style. This has been further improved by attending various Grow MedTech and Translate training courses, which has cemented this knowledge.

    I also attended and presented at the Dragons Den event. Even though I did not receive the award, the feedback and questions from the panel gave me the confidence to answer questions outside of the academic arena.

    I was successfully awarded a Translate secondment to travel to Harvard University in America to work with Dr Sean Lawler. Unfortunately, due to COVID travel restrictions, I have so far been unable to go.

    Q. What innovation and KE skills have you developed during your project?

    As I already mentioned, improving effective communication to outside organisations, gaining insight by attending courses in commercialisation and patenting academic works – improving pitching skills, learning how to adopt a particular terminology and communicate with commercial and Clinical fields – this is very different to academia.

    Q. What is the most unique or interesting thing about this project?

    Our technology is truly unique – nothing like this test is available and it could prove genuinely life changing for people with recurring brain tumours. Linking up with University of Leeds and working with Affimer technology make our work very novel. This work has the potential to make a huge difference to patient’s life – improving life expectancy and patient experience considerably.

    Q. How did you first get involved in your specialist area? What sparked the idea?

    I worked on biomarkers before brain tumours – specifically ovarian and colorectal cancers. I trained in parasitology and did my PhD in parasitic diagnostics– but struggled to find jobs in the field (I made own diagnostics!) I eventually got a job at the Pirbright Institute where I developed a diagnostic for Rindepest and helped in the world wide eradication of the virus. Finally I contacted an old lecturer and got a job at University of Leeds.

    Q. What inspires you?

    Research, discovering something new –it is a privilege to have a job where you learn something new every day and then use it to change peoples’ (or animals’) lives – I want to see application in the real world, and develop diagnostics and treatments to change lives.

    Q. What impact do you hope your work will have on the world?

    With the Grow MedTech funded blood test, I hope that it will make a genuine difference. I have talked to patients to find out about their experiences and that has made me want to help patients and their relatives to help prolong patients’ lives. If research can help out, then that’s what I hope to achieve – it can be done and I’m really hopeful!

  6. Putting patients at the heart of technology

    Dr Danielle Miles is the Programme Lead and Technology Innovation Manager for Grow MedTech based at the University of Leeds. In this article, she discusses the importance of directly involving patients in research, and how we made it a primary focus of our programme.

    In my previous life as a scientist, I often carried out public engagement around my research. I found it really motivating: when you actually speak to people who are dealing with the problem you’re trying to solve, it makes it very real and it drives you to develop better technologies.

    Most scientists will either interact with the public through engagement of this kind – which is essentially the dissemination of research to a lay audience – or with patients through clinical trials and studies, where the research is being done ‘to’ patients.

    Patient and public involvement – or PPI – is something quite different altogether. PPI is when patients and the public are actually involved in the research directly, where the research is carried out with and by members of the public, rather than to, about, or for them.

    Championing PPI

    At Grow MedTech, we’ve aimed to champion PPI right from the start, ensuring that patients play a central role in the programme and in each project we’ve supported. Our ambition is to develop medical technologies that are better aligned to patient needs and that means involving patients and people with long term conditions at every stage of the journey.

    To my mind, the reasons for this are clear. Patient involvement can ensure that the technology you develop is relevant and practical. Patients can help you identify and understand the problem that you’re trying to solve, keep the research on track and validate the specifications for the technology. If you develop relationships with patients early on, they can become advocates for your technology and encourage recruitment to later stage clinical trials.

    With medical technologies, we often talk about technology push and market pull. The market pull tends to be seen as coming from industry or clinicians, and patients and the public have historically been pushed into the background. But fundamentally, medical technologies are there to tackle real life problems, and will only be successful in the market if they do. To understand these problems, we need to talk to the people that are impacted by them, the patients. By talking to them, we understand the lived experience, the challenges that they’re facing, the scale of the problem and the impact that a technology could make. And that’s true whether the technology is one that will directly be used by patients, or will be used by clinicians for – ultimately – patient benefit.

    Meeting the gold standard

    We made a determined choice to not only expect our projects to involve patients, but also to bring patients into the heart of the Grow MedTech programme.

    Firstly, we made connections with established PPI groups, through third parties such as Versus Arthritis, Devices4Dignity, Leeds Biomedical Research Centre and other local NIHR-funded organisations. These groups helped us by reviewing our funding application forms and advising on how we involved patients in projects – our selection processes, whether renumeration was set correctly and whether we were valuing patient input sufficiently. Essentially, they helped us to follow best practice and meet the gold standard for PPI.

    Secondly, we sought to have patient representatives on our funding panels (though we didn’t manage this for all of them).

    We talked extensively with the NIHR i4i funding programme about how to produce better guidance for patients who might want to engage with funding panels or technology development projects.

    And we also drew on some of the excellent PPI resources that are available, such as the NIHR Involve toolkit.

    Co-designing technologies

    Any project that applied for Grow MedTech funding had to include PPI and it was a key factor in successful bids. The TIMs helped academics connect with relevant PPI groups and involve patients in projects from the offset in funding applications and proposals.

    The most common form of involvement was through focus groups, where patients worked with academics to co-design, test and validate their technologies. The focus groups also helped academics understand the patient perspective and burden, and this informed the design of trials and helped recruitment to them.

    Many academics embraced PPI enthusiastically, but it’s fair to say there is still some scepticism. Academics have to juggle lots of different responsibilities, and for some, this just feels like one more they’d rather not deal with. Sometimes they’d consider that, as they’re going to do a clinical trial, the extra effort of getting patients involved in the research in other ways just isn’t necessary.

    As TIMs, our role was to change this view and help academics see the value of PPI. Luckily, we could point at plenty of projects where those benefits were already being realised. There was Sohel Rana at the University of Huddersfield, who drew on feedback from patients to help determine the specifications of a new composite material for use in prosthetics. That team have continued to involve patients in validating the technology, to ensure it meets the needs originally identified through the focus groups.

    Or Lynn Barker at Sheffield Hallam University, who also gained feedback from dementia, stroke and brain injury patients on their digital tool to assess cognitive responses. As a result, they changed the instructions from visual to audio and adapted other elements of the user interface as well.

    Convincing the sceptics

    If the sceptics still weren’t convinced, then we would also point out that most major funders, such as NIHR or EPSRC, now expect patient involvement as standard. Any academic who can show that patients have already been involved in shaping the research from the earliest stages, will have an advantage over those who cannot. That should never be the only reason to do PPI, but it is an added incentive.

    When we launched Grow MedTech and pledged to put patients at the centre of everything we do, I didn’t want those to be empty words. I didn’t want PPI to be tokenistic, or just a tick box exercise. We’ve worked hard to make the words reality and I’m proud of what we achieved. But there’s no denying we could do more.

    While working through other organisations to involve their PPI groups has been fantastic, I’d love to see a dedicated PPI group for involvement in the development of medical technologies in the region. I’d like to have seen all the projects we supported involving patients as much as some of the very best did. Working with patients on the programme and through the projects taught us so much – but there is still lots to learn. And that’s yet another reason why patient and public involvement is so rewarding.

  7. Developing skills through knowledge exchange: Dr Jen Edwards

    In this Q&A, Dr Jen Edwards, University Academic Fellow in Musculoskeletal Medical Technologies at the University of Leeds, discusses how our funding opportunities helped to progress her project towards real patient benefit.

    Project summary: Acellular biological scaffolds developed at the University of Leeds repair and replace human tissue. Called dCell®, the technology has been commercialised through Tissue Regenix and products for woundcare and cardiovascular applications have already reached the market.

    I am investigating ways to remove cells from donated adipose tissue. The aim is to produce an implantable product that surgeons can use in reconstructive surgery without triggering an immune response. Working in collaboration with NHS Blood and Transplant, I am looking particularly at developing decellularised adipose gels that can be used to treat diabetic foot ulcers.

    Collaborators: Tissue Regenix, NHSBT, Leeds Teaching Hospital Trust

    Q. How have you found working with co-development partners and what benefits has it brought to your technology?

    The funding I have received from Grow MedTech has enabled me to work independently with partners in NHS Blood and Transplant to develop my ideas. This has been a great introduction to how to work with them to design processes which can be used by their manufacturing teams easily. It has given me the confidence in myself and my ideas to do this without direct guidance from a more experienced academic.

    Q. Where was your career and project when Grow Medtech got involved?

    I had been a postdoctoral research fellow at Leeds for seven years. I was involved in several IKC supported projects to understand how decellularised tendon scaffolds would function when used to repair the anterior cruciate ligament in the knee. This provided important evidence for the potential of these scaffolds to successfully and safely treat patients. For a year, my salary was funded by an IKC Proof of Concept study in collaboration with NHS Blood and Transplant (NHSBT). This work developed a sterilisation method for decellularised human bone-tendon-bone grafts which is suitable for use by NHSBT in their production facilities.

    During my postdoctoral role, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to conduct some of my own research and I developed a protocol for decellularisation of porcine adipose – body fat – tissue. I was then awarded Grow MedTech Proof of Feasibility funding to translate this protocol to human donor adipose tissue, with the support of NHS Blood and Transplant.

    The purpose of decellularisation is to remove cells and cellular proteins from a tissue but maintain the integrity of the extracellular matrix (comprised of structural proteins and other biological molecules). The resulting scaffold can be used to repair or replace damaged tissue without the risk of an adverse immune reaction to cellular proteins, whilst still providing complex biological cues and biomechanical function.

    The approach could create a new product for an unmet clinical need – restoration of the plantar fat pad in diabetic patients to prevent them developing diabetic foot ulcers. The prevalence of diabetes in the UK was estimated at 3.5 million patients in 2015. 2-3% of these patients are thought to have an active foot ulcer at any time, with 5-7% of diabetic patients affected at some point in their lifetime.

    The idea was to inject decellularised adipose to the fat pads in the sole of the foot to reduce the pressure on the skin and prevent ulcers developing. In diabetic patients, it is better to avoid cutting the skin on the foot and Davis Russell, a Consultant Vascular Surgeon, was keen on a solution that’s injectable for this reason.

    Many treatment options at the moment use bulky footwear to reduce pressure on the foot, which do not fit in well with patient’s lives. This approach could improve treatment over these current options by instead providing long term regeneration. As it is made from donor adipose, it would be possible to repeat the injection, unlike the silicone injections which have been trialled in some patients.

    Q. How did Grow MedTech and Translate MedTech help?

    Grow MedTech funded three of my projects: a Proof of Feasibility and two Proof of Market studies.

    The PoF gave me the experience of applying for funding as a post-doc and provided me with one day a week to generate pilot data and give a solid starting point to the research. I could see an end impact point with NHSBT – an easy route to the product and process being used. This new independent collaboration gave me more confidence in talking to new and existing collaborators.

    I then was awarded a Proof of Market to carry out an in-depth analyses of the commercial and competitive landscape for decellularised adipose. This included a better understanding of the potential costs of treatment compared with current products and solutions and an overview of the opportunities and regulations for human adipose tissue outside of the UK.

    I also won a Proof of Market for my decellularised bone-tendon graft project. Acute damage to ligament and tendon tissue places a burden on healthcare systems around the globe. These tissues heal poorly and tears must often be repaired surgically, requiring a replacement tissue. Tissue allografts can be successful, but the donor cells can cause an adverse immune response, delaying healing and recovery. My PoM study aimed to understand the routes to market and clinical applications of the decellularised porcine and human bone-tendon grafts, and again, understand the opportunities outside of the UK and how they would be regulated.

    Grow MedTech has been invaluable in flagging other relevant opportunities, like an internal fund for impact which was available. With the support of the team, I am able to focus on relevant opportunities and continue to gather the necessary evidence to translate my work for patient benefit.

    Q. How has your career developed during the project?

    When I was part-way through my PoF project I secured a University Academic Fellow (UAF) post. UAF is a structured five-year development programme that leads to you becoming an Associate Professor, so this was a real pivotal moment in my career.

    Being awarded PoF funding really helped in my application as generally postdoctoral researchers aren’t eligible for most funding, so I could demonstrate some success in winning bids. It also gave me the confidence in my ideas and a space to explore leading my own research on a small scale.

    I am also revising a Future Leaders Fellowship submission. It provides funding up to seven years both to tackle ambitious and challenging research and innovation and to develop your career. Grow MedTech has provide input and comments and the application will be submitted in January. The PoM project has provided clear evidence for the importance of the work I wish to develop – that everything has been thought about around where in the market it will fit.

    Q. What is the most unique or interesting thing about this project?

    Probably the unexpected opportunities it has brought me. I now have a further project to work with real patient tissues and understand how they behave. More than that was the opportunity to work with the Thackray Medical Museum in developing a new exhibit. They saw the Grow MedTech mid-term report and got in touch with the team to try and display some of the work. I already had a reputation as someone very keen on public engagement and was asked to lead on this at the start. By working with Grow MedTech, we were able to design an exhibit which will showcase six of their funded projects once the Museum reopens. I am also hoping to maintain future links with the Museum to develop an interactive exhibit around the research within the Institute of Medical and Biological Engineering.

    Q. How did you first get involved in your specialist area? What sparked the idea?

    I was part of a clinical immersion project, where I was able to spend two weeks shadowing clinicians. One of the opportunities was spending a day in the Leeds Limb Salvage Service, where I met Mr David Russell. Talking to him made me realise that there are surgeons who value academic input to solve their clinical challenges. Over time, I developed the idea of decellularised adipose, using the skills I had developed as a postdoc. The continued enthusiasm of Dave has helped me shape this idea into something which could provide real patient benefit through the NHS.

    Q. What inspires you?

    Opportunities to be curious and change the world around us. I love learning new things; even better when they could potentially improve lives. Better still when I get to talk about them with other people.

    Q. What impact do you hope your work will have on the world?

    A combination of things. The most obvious is patient benefit to improve quality of life and reduce complications. I hope the research can tell us more about the healing process and lead to other treatments in the future. More than that, I hope that I can inspire more people to see how fascinating science and engineering can be.

  8. Learning is best achieved by doing

    Dr Jo Dixon-Hardy is the Director of Grow MedTech based at the University of Leeds. In this article, she discusses how we help academics develop their skills through training, mentoring and action learning.

    The success of Grow MedTech isn’t simply measured in the technologies we’ve helped to progress. We also judge our success by how much the academics we work with have increased their knowledge and understanding of the innovation pathway. Although most of what we do takes place outside a classroom setting, learning and skills development is still very much a central plank of the Grow MedTech programme.

    The real ‘teachers’ in Grow MedTech are our technology innovation managers, or TIMs. They are often seen as purely project managers, helping academics to keep to timescales and deadlines and prioritise work packages. They do all that, of course, but they do so much more as well. They act almost like mentors, guiding the academics as they develop their technologies. They provide on-the-job learning – or action learning – that really helps to embed a wider knowledge and understanding of how to progress a medical technology.

    Ask a silly question

    Our TIMs often say that it’s their job to “ask the silly questions”. By this, they mean the basic questions that need to be addressed right from the start. Such as whether the academic has sought a clinical opinion, or the patient perspective. Or simply whether a material has been toxicity tested. Asking these questions prompts the academic to think differently about their project – and ensures that, should they look to develop another technology in the future, they’ll consider such elements much earlier on.

    In a manner of speaking, the process is two-way. Because they have this source of expertise they trust, academics also feel able to ask ‘silly’ questions themselves, without worrying that they should know this already. That’s truly irrespective of where the academic is at in their career. You can start on this path as a new post-doc or an established professor – the learning process will be the same.

    Completing the application forms for our various grants is another form of action learning. The questions posed show the academic what needs to be considered at each stage of the innovation journey. For example, if they are applying for a proof-of-concept grant, how do they see their technology moving down a commercial pathway? The chances of an academic knowing that straight off are fairly unlikely. But this helps them know what questions need answering and the support of the TIM means they can find those answers. As a result, they gain more insight and more input, all of which is a learning process. Even if a funding bid is rejected, the detailed feedback that our opportunity management panel always provide also builds their knowledge and understanding.

    A wider knowledge base

    While mentoring is normally a one-to-one relationship, the TIMs provide the academics with access to a wider knowledge and skills base. Firstly, amongst the TIMs themselves, expertise is shared and any or all of them might input into each project. But the TIMs also draw in expertise from external partners, who provide further learning opportunities for the academics. They can help identify the right clinical partner for the project, if one isn’t already in place. Or the right industry partner – whether that’s a company that can help address technical questions about the technology, or one that can help with manufacture, for example.

    More traditional skills development, in the form of workshops and secondments, are available to the academics as well through our partner project Translate. The secondments are another opportunity to learn on the job – but in a new environment and from a new perspective. Professor Stephen Smith, an engineer from the University of York, says that spending time with medics and healthcare professionals when he was developing an innovation to support treatment of Parkinson’s provided more than just a secondment. The information and experience he gained helped him understand better how his technology could be developed.

    Practical application

    Similarly, the workshops we offer through Translate provide the greatest benefits for those academics who can immediately apply what they learn to a project, rather than putting it aside for use at some future date. This is where Grow MedTech and Translate complement each other so well.

    Working with the TIMs, filling out the Grow MedTech application forms, and receiving feedback from the grant panel helps the academics identify the gaps in their knowledge and experience. Because – and again, this is something our TIMs often say – you don’t know what you don’t know. Once the gaps have been identified, Translate – with its workshops and secondments – helps to fill them.

    The positive feedback from academics who’ve worked with our TIMs, taken up secondments and attended our workshops, is testament to how well this mix of action learning and formal training has helped to develop skills and build capacity in knowledge exchange.

  9. Developing skills through knowledge exchange: Dr Sareen Galbraith

    In this Q&A, Dr Sareen Galbraith, Senior Lecturer at Leeds Beckett University, discusses how our training and development opportunities have helped to progress both her technology and her career.

    Project summary: The team – led by Dr Sareen Galbraith, in collaboration with research and development company, Axxonet System Technologies, and the Calderdale and Huddersfield Foundation NHS Trust – have developed a ‘Clasp’ glove, fitted with motion sensors which is designed to be worn for measuring and quantifying upper limb movement in Parkinson’s disease patients. Development of sensitive and reproducible personalised monitoring of patients will provide a wide variety of clinicians with regular objective measures of disease progression, reducing clinic costs and provide reassurance for patients and their care givers.

    Collaborators: Dr Geetha Upadhyaya – Director, Mr Chetan Mukundan – Director, Axxonet Global Ltd, Mr Chetan Mukundan – Director, Mr Sumit Sharma – Chief Technology Officer, Axxonet System Technologies Pvt. Ltd, Dr Walied Mowafi – Consultant Neurologist, Calderdale and Huddersfield NHS Foundation Trust, Drs Dawn Knibbs and Philomena Commons – Senior Lecturers in Physiotherapy, School of Clinical and Applied Sciences, Prof Dorothy Monekosso – Director of Research, School of Computing, Creative Technologies and Engineering, Leeds Beckett University.

    Q. How have you found working with co-development partners and what benefits has it brought to your technology? What skills have you learnt from partnering and how will these help you in future?

    There is no way that it would have been possible to develop the “Clasp” glove without Axxonet because I would not have known what sensors to add to the glove. There is no way I would have developed the glove without my clinical partners because I needed to work with them to design upper limb movement tasks that were similar to the clinical assessment, which is UPDRS.

    I have leant the value of spending time with other skilled professionals, such a medics and engineers is critical to the development of medical technology.

    Q. Where was your career and project when Grow MedTech got involved?

    I was a senior lecturer in microbiology and biomedical science. I lead the neurovirology and disease research group. I am developing medical technologies to support patients who are suffering from neurological disease and infections.

    Q. How did Grow MedTech and Translate MedTech help?

    I would not have been able to develop the “Clasp” glove without the two Translate secondments that I received. One secondment brought Dr Mowafi to the University to develop patient movement tasks and the other brought Axxonet engineers to the University to modify and further develop the “Clasp” glove prototype for clinical testing.

    I was fortunate to receive summer student project funding at a critical time for “clasp” glove prototype testing, which really sped up the development of the medical technology.

    I have also benefitted from extensive med tech training provided by Translate and Grow MedTech, which has really helped me to develop the “Clasp” glove. In addition, my Translate and Grow MedTech technology innovation managers have really helped and supported me as I developed the “Clasp” glove.

    I have learnt a lot through Grow MedTech and Translate conferences and events. I have benefited from the opportunity to present my research and network with other people.

    Q. How has your career developed during the project?

    I have been able to develop and receive funding for medical technology research. This has helped my career progression.

    I have learnt a lot about developing medical technologies for the NHS and other healthcare providers. I now understand a lot more about products, tools and services, marketing and delivering value.

    Q. What is the most unique or interesting thing about this project?

    Personal monitoring of a long term neurological condition.

    Q. How did you first get involved in your specialist area? What sparked the idea?

    I worked on a clinical trial in Nepal and saw first-hand the challenges faced by patients who suffer from neurological disease and infections.

    Q. What inspires you?

    Making a difference in the lives of others.

    Q. What impact do you hope your work will have on the world?

    I hope the glove will support patients with Parkinson’s disease and other neurological conditions. Those patients have a mixed disease progression, but they only see clinicians annually or biannually. This results in patients feeling that their medication is not working as well as it could. The “Clasp” glove will measure and quantify upper limb movement between clinical appointments.

  10. Compete or collaborate: why not do both?

    Dr Danielle Miles is the Programme Lead and Technology Innovation Manager for Grow MedTech based at the University of Leeds. In this article, she outlines how we combined competition and collaboration to build a successful programme.

    Competition and collaboration could be seen as mutually exclusive. At Grow MedTech, we’ve managed to create a culture that combines the two – and we’ve been more effective as a result.

    Multi-partner programmes like Grow MedTech are founded on collaboration, they can’t function without it. Collaboration was built into the programme from the start; the bid itself was co-developed by partners. Although all six institutions involved are very different, the strength of the programme is because together, we are greater than the sum of our parts.

    That doesn’t mean that competition can’t exist as well and we’d be naïve to think it doesn’t. Although some see competition as a negative force, in reality the friendly form of competition we’ve developed within Grow MedTech has been no bad thing. In fact, I believe it’s helped us to drive forward better technologies.

    This combination of competition and collaboration significantly influenced how we managed the programme.

    Friendly competition

    One good example is around funding. The funding we had to support technology development could simply have been split six ways, letting each university use it as they wished to support the projects they chose. But all partners agreed from the start – in a collaborative spirit! – that we would allocate the funding through competitive calls, using a robust and transparent process.

    We created our Opportunity Management Panel (or OMP) to make funding decisions. The OMP is itself a collaboration between academia and industry: it includes knowledge exchange representatives from each of the partners along with external medtech expertise from industry and innovation organisations.

    Developing the applications for funding involved collaboration – between the Technology Innovation Manager (TIMs) and the project teams, and between the TIMs themselves. But the fact the process was competitive definitely drove improvement in the applications.

    I’m both a TIM and the Programme lead, and with the latter hat on, it was interesting to see how the TIMs became embedded in the project teams they worked with. It was also fascinating to watch the healthy competition that would develop as they so passionately wanted the projects they worked with to be successful in the funding bid. The TIMs themselves have to champion each project to the OMP so it was in their interests to be sure the application was as good as it could be. This was where the competition helped – no one wanted to sign off a weak application as they knew they’d have to defend it.

    Shared outcomes

    This drive for success was never because the TIMs wanted a project to be funded simply because of the institution it came from. It was from a genuine belief in the project and because they wanted the maximum number of the most promising technologies funded, for the overall programme to be a success.

    Because we all work together as a team rather than just for the institution in which we’re based, we also supported each other in developing bids. Each TIM has slightly different areas of expertise, and each project benefited from that, with each TIM providing recommendations and suggestions on the others’ applications.

    Although the funding calls were competitive, it wasn’t an ‘all or nothing’ outcome for the projects that applied. No one went away empty handed, because the OMP always gave extensive feedback, so the project team would learn about the gaps in their application and how to address them. This meant the door was never shut – if in scope, projects could always reapply once they’d addressed the OMP feedback. In fact, it was rare that successful bids came without recommendations or conditions. This feedback from the OMP, together with the support provided by the TIMs, was easily as valuable to the projects as the funding itself.

    Positive feedback

    The OMP feedback was also crucial for the TIMs. As they presented the project to the panel, they also listened to the subsequent discussion and fully understood why a decision had been made. This meant they could then talk it through with the project team and knew what to do next. It also meant that the TIMs developed an understanding of what a really good application looked like. So, as the programme progressed, applications became stronger and stronger as a result.

    And that’s the bottom line. It’s always been about supporting the best technologies and ensuring the best use of the resources we have. The competition means we strive for the best, and the collaboration means we share the success. The better the technologies, the more they can benefit from the opportunities Grow MedTech provided, the better for the programme as a whole. And that’s good news for everyone.