Making a difference: Impact report 2017

Translating research ideas into products and services

Chapter Three

Translating research ideas into products and services


For research to progress, new ideas need to be translated into new products, protocols or treatments that can benefit patients.

This can be split into four types of outputs generated throughout the translation process:

Key stats

Protecting and licensing intellectual property

Translating research can lead to the creation of intellectual property; an idea, design or invention owned by the person who created it. Researchers can register and protect their intellectual property to prevent theft or copying by registering for copyrights, patents, and/or trademarks. They can also license it by partnering with another person or business to authorise their partner to use the intellectual property in exchange for an agreed payment.

3% (164) of 5,287 awards generated 250 registered, protected and licensed intellectual properties. 224 of these were unique [1]

The majority (68%) of intellectual properties were not yet formally licensed, with almost 60% in the process of being applied for

For further information see appendix 1.

Case study: Sparks

Researchers developed and patented a gas delivery-ventilator system to help protect long term brain function in babies starved of oxygen at birth

A variety of complications during birth can lead to babies being starved of oxygen, a condition known as asphyxia. Approximately two in 1000 babies born at full term in the UK develop brain dysfunction due to birth asphyxia. Left untreated 66 per cent of babies starved of oxygen will die or be left severely disabled due to brain injuries.   The first effective treatment for reducing brain injury in oxygen starved infants – cooling to 33.5˚C for 72 hours – was established following international clinical trials, one of which took place in St Michael’s Hospital, University of Bristol, led by Professor Marianne Thoresen. It was adopted as the standard treatment throughout the developed world and globally saves 1,500 babies from being disabled each year. Following this, Sparks funded Professor Thoresen and her team to investigate whether combining cooling with the administration of Xenon gas could reduce the risk of severe disability even further.

The researchers showed that Xenon combined with cooling protected the brain better than cooling alone in animal models of asphyxia but they needed to develop a safe and cost-effective delivery system for the rare and expensive gas. In collaboration with Dr John Dingley from Swansea University (AOX Ltd), the team successfully patented a new ventilator system that achieved this.   SparksThe system is now being used in a human phase II clinical trial of Xenon in birth asphyxia being run by Professor Thoresen’s team at the University of Bristol. If further trials are successful, the team would have developed a combination therapy that improves the outcome and reduces the severity of disability for thousands of babies who suffer birth asphyxia worldwide each year.

Spin out companies

Translating research can result in the creation of spin out companies to commercialise the new product or process. In addition to ultimately helping patients, these companies contribute to the growth of the UK’s economy and generate further jobs in our thriving life sciences sector.

0.7% (36) of 5,287 awards generated 42 spin out companies, 39 of these were unique [1:1]

For further information see appendix 1.

Case study: Pancreatic Cancer UK

New immunotherapies for cancer are being driven to market by a researcher-led spin out company.

In the UK, pancreatic cancer has the lowest survival rate of all the 21 most common cancers, with just five per cent of people living for five years or more after diagnosis. There has been growing interest in a new treatment for pancreatic cancer, immunotherapy, which uses the immune system to fight against cancer cells.

When you have an infection, T cells in your blood attack and kill the infected cells. They recognise which cells to kill because infected cells display specific protein fragments on their surface that are absent from healthy cells. Cancerous cells also often display proteins on their surface that aren’t present on healthy cells but T cells do not recognise these naturally.

Pancreatic Cancer UK funded researchers, led by Dr John Maher at King’s College London have been developing a cutting edge treatment known as CAR-T therapy, which involves engineering a patient’s immune cells to recognise a protein (αvβ6 integrin) expressed on tumour cells and subsequently attack and eliminate the cells.

King’s College London formed a spin out company called Leucid Bio, to enable the research team to put the infrastructure in place to develop the therapy, get extra investment and start clinical trials. Pancreatic Cancer UK In 2015, the team began a CAR-T therapy trial in head and neck cancer patients that will give the first indication of the safety of their CAR-T system. Leucid Bio aims to begin clinical trials of CAR-T therapy for pancreatic cancer within the next few years.

Medical products and interventions

Translating research can lead to the creation of medical products and interventions which can be tested via clinical trials.

5% (282) of 5,287 awards generated 434 developed and tested medical products and interventions, 397 of these were unique [1:2]

Types of medical products and interventions generated:

Figure 8 Figure 8. Top 5 types of medical products and interventions generated

Product Type %
Support Tool - For Fundamental Research 3%
Therapeutic Intervention - Physical 3%
Therapeutic Intervention - Radiotherapy 3%
Support Tool - For Medical Intervention 3%
Therapeutic Intervention - Psychological/Behavioural 3%
Management of Diseases and Conditions 2%
Therapeutic Intervention - Vaccines 2%
Preventative Intervention - Behavioural risk modification 2%
Therapeutic Intervention - Surgery 2%
Preventative Intervention - Nutrition and Chemoprevention 1%
Preventative Intervention - Physical/Biological risk modification 1%
Health and Social Care Services 0%
Products with applications outside of medicine 0%
Therapeutic Intervention - Complementary 0%

Figure 9. Other types of medical products and interventions generated

For further information see appendix 1.

Case study: Fight for Sight

A diagnostic tool that screens 176 genes at once has improved the accuracy and speed of diagnosis in patients with retinal dystrophy.

Inherited retinal dystrophies (IRD) are a group of conditions that deteriorate the sight of one in 2,500 people. IRD can be caused by changes in over 200 different genes, meaning patients have very varied ages of onset and levels of severity. This makes diagnosing the condition extremely challenging and leads to uncertainties for management and treatment.

Fight for Sight funded a five year programme (‘Regard’ - REsearching Genetics And Retinal Dystrophy) to help improve healthcare provision for patients with IRD. At the time screening for genetic causes of IRD was possible only for a minority of patients because it was done on a gene by gene basis.

Regard researchers were able to develop a diagnostic tool that allowed genetic testing to become more thorough and widely available. The tool is capable of testing multiple genes at the same time to identify the cause of disease. The project also provided the NHS with evidence of the value of a consistent approach to genetic testing and patient care in IRD.

This test is now available throughout the NHS to patients and families of those with IRD. Fight for Sight The test uses just one sample from a patient to screen all ~180 genes minimising the number of times patients need to see healthcare professionals before diagnosis and reduces the time taken to receive the results. The results provide an accurate, definitive diagnosis, which helps medical professionals assess risk for the patient and family members, and plan appropriate counselling.

Software and technical products

Medical research can result in the creation of software and technical products that have the potential to help patients.

1% (69) of 5,287 awards generated 111 software and technical products, 102 of these were unique [1:3]

Types of software and technical products generated:

Figure 10 Figure 10. Types of software and technical products generated

Other types of Software or Technical Products %
Detection Devices 3%
New Material/Compound 2%
Physical Model/Kit 1%
Systems, Materials & Instrumental Engineering 1%

Figure 11. Types of software and technical products generated

For further information see appendix 1.

Case study: Stroke Association

Intervention delivered in an online virtual island designed to help people with aphasia practice everyday speech has been shown to improve functional communication

250,000 people are living with aphasia in the UK. It is caused by damage to the regions of the brain that control language, usually as a result of stroke. Aphasia can eliminate or reduce the use of speech, with associated problems in reading, writing and speech comprehension. The consequences for a person’s life are profound and feelings of social isolation are common.

EVA Park is an online virtual island designed to help people with aphasia practice their conversation skills and enhance their social connectedness. It was co-designed by a team led by Professor Jane Marshall and people with aphasia. Users including speech therapists and those with aphasia are represented in the world by personalised avatars and communicate via speech in real time, using a head set and microphone. In an initial trial of the system, 20 participants had five weeks’ access to EVA Park. Participants made significant gains on an assessment of functional communication.

EVA Park was presented at numerous scientific conferences, published in the journal Plos One, and covered in multiple features in the mainstream media. It also received a prestigious TechforGood 2015 People’s Award, and leveraged £224,000 in further funding. The team aims to develop EVA Park into a mainstream therapy resource widely available for people with aphasia.

Stroke Association Paula Smejka, whose husband John lives with aphasia, commented: “The last day of John’s time in EVA Park coincided with the end of school term and as usual we all went out for tea - that day was the first day in almost three years that John ordered his own dinner in a restaurant. That was a massive step back to normality for our family.”


  1. Unique outputs refer to the actual number of outputs generated. The number of total outputs is higher because this figure includes outputs that have been attributed to more than one award. ↩︎ ↩︎ ↩︎ ↩︎