Why 8 and 9?
28 October 2013 by David Bott
At the beginning of the year I tried to explain how our ideas about Catapults had evolved as we designed and assembled the first 7. We realised the importance of alignment with our other programmes – not only so that they could source the “second third” of their funding, but also because our programmes are derived from extensive consultation and represent what our analysis suggest are the growth opportunities for UK based companies.
Since then a lot has happened, not the least of which is getting an extra £130m for the year 2015/16 in the Spending Review. (I know the headline figure was £185m, but we were about to lose £55m from the 2011 Autumn Statement at that point, so the overall effect is an additional £130m). What we have come to realise is that Catapults work best when coupled with co-ordinated programmes like our Innovation Platforms. This brings not only the money, but the full weight of our strategic consultations, collaboration building and industry engagement.
All this means that we now better understand what role a Catapult plays in any developing area, and therefore how to more effectively deploy Catapults to support innovation in the UK. The criteria we originally published as we selected the Catapults had five questions. The first three were the same as for everything else we do (market, research capacity and business capability), the fourth was the ability of a Catapult in the area to “enable the UK to attract and anchor the knowledge-intensive activities of globally mobile companies and secure sustainable wealth creation for the UK” and the final one was that it aligned with strategic national priorities (which is mildly tautologous with the first 3, since they use the same criteria!). This means that inside our existing programmes the question becomes “does a centre add value?”
We have had an Innovation Platform in Stratified Medicine for a couple of years now. It was the culmination of many discussions with people in all corners of the healthcare industry – most of whom ended up as partners in the Platform (Medical Research Council, the Department of Health, Cancer Research UK, Arthritis Research UK, National Institute for Clinical Health and Care Excellence and NHS Scotland) It is also based on our the experience of running the (accurate but long-windedly named) Detection and Identification of Infectious Agents Innovation Platform. Stratification relies on accurately matching the precise nature of the disease with the typology of the host and then selecting the right therapy. The history of the pharmaceutical industry means that we have a large body of organised capability in the UK on the therapy side – although it does need to evolve its approach – but, as far as diagnostics are concerned, we have an industry that is sub-optimal for what most recognise as the future of healthcare. Diagnostics is also, by its nature, a multi-disciplinary subject. To describe the target, you need a profound understanding of the molecular biology that causes disease and the response of the patient to it, but to identify and quantify the state of that target requires advanced sensor technology and advanced data analysis. A physical centre will bring these disparate skills together and enable the speed of development to be increased.
We had already identified “smart grids and distribution” in the first Catapult selection process, but thought the market too early – our first smart grid competition did not get a strong response and various reports suggested that it would be premature. With the extra money to invest – and a partnership with EPSRC – we are now in a position to launch an integrated programme to address this vital challenge. The Catapult will be part of a wider programme of support measures both for the development of new science (through the EPSRC) and development of new components and systems that will enable the evolution of our national electricity grid to the functionality required, and the building of local energy systems. The programme also includes a demonstrator – which will enable the companies involved in the area to test and validate their ideas in a controlled environment. It is combination of Catapult, Integrated Development Programme and Demonstrator that is powerful for this area.
We are now involved in the consultation on the detailed issues of designing and implementing these two Catapults. As we start to see the delivery of the promises made for the first 7, it is nice to have a vision for the future of this additional programme as an integrated part of the activities of the Technology Strategy Board.