Lifesciences, Healthcare and Sustainable Tech

From the recent Innovation Strategy announced by the UK government, it’s clear that the main areas of focus are life sciences and sustainable tech. The PM has aspirations of making the UK a science superpower by 2030 while also striving to end the country’s greenhouse gas contributions by 2050 through the UK’s £1 billion Net Zero Innovation Portfolio. Investors and entrepreneurs involved in these sectors will particularly be attentive over the government’s future plans.

Echoing the response to COVID-19 with the country’s Vaccine Taskforce, the government wants to continue its efficiency in seizing opportunities, investing in a portfolio of projects and reducing the bureaucracy when supporting innovators and private investors in these industries. This will bring both quicker solutions for companies and quicker returns for investors as seen with the likes of Zentraxa, a spinout from the University of Bristol, manufacturing biopolymers for use in highly functional adhesives in medical and industrial settings. After receiving grant funding of £232,000 from Innovate UK, aligned with £110,000 investment from UKI2S which leveraged £337,000 from private investors, Zentraxa is on track to becoming the front-runner in developing novel, sustainable biomaterials due to the efficiency of the government’s programmes.

Funding opportunities both domestic and foreign are in the works and are expected to rise. The British Business Bank has launched the Life Sciences Investment Programme, a £200 million investment targeting the growth-stage funding gap faced by UK life science companies. The UK’s Energy Entrepreneurs Fund has also led to The Axis Energy Project. Based in Aberdeen, Scotland, Axis Energy has developed a novel mooring system and foundation capable of accommodating the largest offshore floating wind turbines contributing to decarbonisation efforts and achieving a 30% reduction in cost of energy and operating costs. Looking abroad, the UK-UAE Sovereign Investment Partnership has enabled Mubadala to make an £800 million investment in the UK life sciences sector. The growth in opportunities the UK should provide bring confidence to both investors and companies.

In line with the government’s goal of “levelling up” innovation across the entire UK, the life science and sustainable tech sectors are no exception. This in turn has increased collaboration between UK cities as seen with the Digital Pathology & Imaging AI Centre of Excellence Programme. With the support of £50 million of Industrial Strategy Challenge Funding, and £33 million industry investment, the Centres – based in London, Leeds, Oxford, Coventry and Glasgow – are curating data from hundreds of thousands of diagnostic images a year to make new AI systems for analysis of medical imaging, improving diagnosis and delivering precision treatments.

Initiatives are not just being introduced for the companies of the future. Traditional industries have not been ignored by the government, highlighting their importance in also shaping a more sustainable, innovative UK. Across the Midlands for example, £18.3 million will be going towards the Midlands Industrial Ceramics Group to improve manufacturing processes in advanced ceramics making them more energy-efficient, faster and cheaper. In Scotland & Cumbria, £21.3 million will be going to the Digital Dairy Value-Chain project which will create a dairy industry that is more efficient and sustainable by combining digital communications and advanced manufacturing. Sustainability for the future, across the entire UK is the key focus for both traditional and new companies.

Despite a heavy emphasis on the certain sectors mentioned, investors across the board should be vigilant as the greatest benefits will often be at the intersection of various technology families. ‘Cyber-physical infrastructure’ will enable this; weaving together AI, connected smart machines, data, digital twins, and other technologies. For example: agricultural machines managed by AI will nurture crops using orbital sensors that allow real-time environment analysis, resulting in sustainable and affordable food. The key now, is to support technologies at their interfaces, accelerate innovation and multiply the potential of start-ups and early-stage companies through effective investing.

Overall, the UK is keen to nurture and retain an eco-system that delivers innovative technologies that can also respond quickly to future emergencies emulating the legacy of the Vaccine Taskforce in response to COVID-19. Ongoing government procurement reform post-EU Exit aims to simplify the investing process, while increasing flexibility for entrepreneurs to procure more innovative solutions within the life-sciences and sustainable tech industries.

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