Research England has awarded two grants, totalling £1.5 million, to support two programmes working to dramatically increase the economic value and social impacts derived from university research, both internationally and in the UK. The funds will be administered by the University of Cambridge

The grants, from the Research England Development (RED) Fund, support two programmes: TenU and a new Policy Evidence Unit for University Commercialisation and Innovation (UCI) 

A leading practitioner group, TenU will share expertise and experience to develop, improve, and disseminate best practice in research commercialisation. UCI will undertake research to create the evidence base for informing research commercialisation policy for government and universities. The two groups will work closely in areas of mutual interest.

TenU brings together the heads of the world’s leading technology transfer offices (TTOs) at ten top universities—Cambridge (UK), Columbia (USA), Edinburgh (UK), Imperial College London (UK), Leuven (Belgium), Manchester (UK), MIT (USA), Oxford (UK), Stanford (USA), and University College London (UK)—to share and develop improved approaches to commercialising university research for societal and economic benefit.

Research from these universities has led to many world changing innovations, such as rapid whole genome sequencing (Cambridge), the page rank algorithm technology that became the basis for Google (Stanford), the world’s first artificial vaccine against viral hepatitis B (Edinburgh), fibre optics (Imperial), one of the most widely used medications for HIV treatment (Leuven), and programmed T cell therapies (University College London).

As the world works to rebuild its economies in the wake of COVID-19, university TTOs will play a critical role in turning early-stage, research-based innovations into new products and services across many different sectors. In the UK, the Industrial Strategy has identified universities as key drivers of innovation. In the US similar policy is embodied in the Return on Investment Initiative, led by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in the US Department of Commerce. 

The second grant will provide £1.2 million to the University of Cambridge to establish a Policy Evidence Unit for University Commercialisation and Innovation. The new unit will help to drive a step change in universities’ contributions to delivering increased R&D and innovation in the UK through these uncertain and turbulent times.

UCI will be developed in partnership with the Centre for Science, Technology and Innovation Policy (CSTI) and the National Centre for Universities and Business (NCUB). It will create much needed capacity in the UK to support the needs of UK government departments, funding agencies, and universities for better data, evidence, and expert insights, to develop more effective approaches for university commercialisation and innovation.  

The needs for better evidence are growing as we move from the immediate COVID-19 pandemic crisis into the longer term economic recovery period, and as the government looks to maximise the value realised from its increasing investments in the research base. Universities need to find new ways of working with businesses, investors and others to open up opportunities for wealth creation, address emerging innovation challenges, and improve productivity. To unlock this potential, governments will have to adapt policies and funding programmes to become key enabling partners in this process.

Working closely with key stakeholders, UCI will be initially focusing on three areas:

  • First, developing an evidence base on how the COVID-19 induced economic crisis is affecting universities’ abilities to contribute to innovation, and identify possible actions to ensure they are able to play a strategic and active role in the national economic recovery.  
  • Second, improving our understanding of the research-to-innovation commercialisation journeys and examine how policies and university practices could be strengthened to deliver increased value to the UK.  
  • Third, advancing the data and metrics available to better capture the performance of universities in delivering economic and social impacts through their commercialisation activities to facilitate more effective benchmarking and evaluation of performance.  

UCI will be hosted by CSTI in the University of Cambridge’s Department of Engineering. 

In line with the UK Government’s R&D Roadmap, Research England as part of UK Research and Innovation needs to demonstrate we are world class at securing economic and social benefits from research. University technology transfer is at the heart of that. Research England funding for TenU will help showcase best practice at the global cutting edge, with the new UCI policy unit providing critical evidence and metrics. We look forward to deepening these international links.

David Sweeney, Executive Chair, Research England

We welcome this vital support from Research England, which enables us to continue to share, compare, and advance international best practice in university research commercialisation for the benefit of our economies and societies locally, nationally, and globally.

Tony Raven, CEO, Cambridge Enterprise

I am delighted to bring expertise from CSTI, the University of Cambridge, and NCUB together to establish this important new policy evidence unit. The grant from the Research England Development Fund will enable us to support policymakers, funders, and universities with better and more targeted evidence and expert insight, to consider how to build on and adapt their approaches to university-driven commercialisation and innovation. This will help economies across the UK recover, reconfigure, and thrive through the economic recovery following the COVID-19 pandemic.

Tomas Ulrichsen, Director of the new Policy Evidence Unit for University Commercialisation and Innovation