Innovate UK: Setting challenges, saving lives

This month, Simon Edmonds welcomes a major government investment in the race to build a national vaccine centre and invites manufacturers to apply for grant funding aimed at stimulating innovation and disruption.

Vaccine manufacturing investment boost

The UK’s vaccine manufacturing capabilities are rightfully a major focus at present so it was very welcome news that the government would be investing £131m into the Vaccines Manufacturing and Innovation Centre (VMIC), a cutting-edge vaccine production facility that is being built in Oxfordshire at Harwell.

The state-of-the-art vaccine manufacturing facilities will be able to make up to 40 million doses of coronavirus vaccine by the end of the year.


What the Vaccines Manufacturing and Innovation Centre will look like when completed. Image: Innovate UK

What the VMIC will look like when completed. Image: Innovate UK


The funding, delivered by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), will support the creation of a “virtual VMIC” in which the manufacturing facilities are temporarily created in other premises before the facilities in Oxfordshire are ready.

“Virtual VMIC” will be able to produce up to 40 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine within months of a successful vaccine being approved for production.

VMIC was already under construction as part of the UKRI Medicines Manufacturing Challenge, with the intention of producing a variety of vaccines for existing conditions and providing the UK’s emergency response and stockpile capability, able to quickly manufacture vaccines against unexpected threats such as new infectious diseases or biological agents.

The funding injection means the facility at the Harwell Campus in Oxfordshire will come online in 2021 – 12 months earlier than its original launch date. It will be able to produce enough pandemic vaccine doses for the whole UK population in four to six months.


Access Coronavirus business innovation support package

Innovate UK is playing a key role in a £1.25bn government support package announced by the Chancellor in April for UK businesses driving innovation and development.

The comprehensive package, which includes £750m of targeted support for the most R&D-intensive small and medium-sized firms, will be available through Innovate UK’s well established and successful grants and loans programmes.

I would urge companies to look at the full business support package details that are available.


doctor healthcare mask PPE - Image by Darko Stojanovic from Pixabay

Image: Darko Stojanovic from Pixabay


£40m grant funding confirmed for business projects tackling post-Covid-19 global impact

Innovate UK has confirmed that more than 800 companies – nearly twice as many winners as any previous Innovate UK competition – will share grant funding of £40m, double the amount first planned, to develop new projects and services designed to boost economic recovery from the impact of Covid-19.

Following record-breaking levels of interest from across the UK, those R&D-intensive businesses and technology companies successful in the competition will now drive forward new technological advances addressing new and unique challenges arising from the Covid-19 pandemic.

The money is part of the £1.25bn Coronavirus package announced by the Chancellor to help UK businesses driving innovation and development.

More than 8,600 companies applied in April to the special fast-track competition for up to £50,000 each. This number is more than had applied to Innovate UK competitions across the previous 12 months combined.

The competition’s aim was to support the development of ambitious and innovative products and services which will help society or industry during and after the Covid-19 pandemic.

For example, the need to stay at home and to social distance or self-isolate presents new threats to a wide range of businesses and services. These include firms focused on logistics, food manufacturing, entertainment, financial services, healthcare, hospitality, retail, transport and community support.

Businesses will now be able to start work on the projects in June. They include:

  • The next generation of personal protective equipment with viral-stopping capabilities based on nanofibers for face masks to increase their effectiveness and allow them to potentially be re-used – this will ensure key workers like doctors, nurses and carers have access to the latest advances and protecting them against the disease.
  • Innovative virtual reality solutions enabling surgeons to remotely train and virtually perform surgery to treat patients, keeping medical studies going and helping them to teach the next generation of surgeons.

This package comes on top of Innovate UK’s and UK Research and Innovation’s many standard programmes. While delivered competitively, Innovate UK moved quickly to trial rapid and light-touch processes considering the unique national circumstances.

These included a shorter application form and a simplified approach to due diligence, matching the need for rapid assessment while appropriate to the funding levels involved and still ensuring the necessary rigour.

Overall, the period between competition design and opening to closure and notification of results was shortened from six months to just six weeks.


Future Flight Challenge

Innovate UK will invest up to £30m in innovation projects as part of Phase 2 of the Future Flight Challenge. We will fund projects that develop integrated aviation systems and/or vehicle technologies that enable new classes of electric or autonomous air vehicles.

There are two strands to this funding competition. Click here for more information 

Innovate UK

Simon Edmonds, director - manufacturing, materials & future of mobility, Innovate UK.

Simon Edmonds is  Innovate UK’s Deputy Executive Chair and Chief Business Officer.

All feedback gratefully received – I blog here, and can also be found on Twitter: @SJSEdmonds

For more information on any of Innovate UK’s funding opportunities, please contact
the customer support service:

0300 321 4357 | support@innovateuk.gov.uk | www.innovateuk.gov.uk