MedTech SuperConnector case study

Early-career researchers are bringing fresh ideas to medical technology with support from Research England’s Connecting Capability Fund.

Things are moving fast in medical technology (medtech): the MedTech SuperConnector (MTSC) is bringing together the collective know-how of eight London-based academic institutions, to find better ways of translating new discoveries into clinical practice and marketable products.

MTSC is supported by Research England’s Connecting Capability Fund. What makes it unique is its focus on early-career researchers: as well as nurturing their talent and giving them training in entrepreneurship, MTSC creates a way of tapping the innovative thinking of researchers who are relatively new to the field, to find solutions to the healthcare challenges that we face.

It gives them access to world-class facilities and expertise, as well as the chance to make contacts with industry partners and potential investors, to help bring their ideas to market.

Hiten Thakrar is MTSC’s programme manager, based at Imperial College London. He explains:

“with the SuperConnector, we’re bringing together early-career researchers, bioscience incubators and industry, plus NHS patients, to work out the most effective methods of translating novel medtech discoveries into products that can be commercialised and developed for greater impact.

“This is not an easy sector in which to launch new products: it’s heavily regulated, for good reason. But research towards big medical innovations can now be done by repurposing adjacent technologies from cross-disciplines.

“3D printing, hacking, wearable technologies that can track and improve health: these can be used in a variety of ways for medtech innovation.”

The MTSC consortium also includes arts organisations: the Royal College of Art and Royal College of Music. A quick look at a few MTSC-supported projects shows how arts and medical research can combine in interesting ways: one takes the Royal College of Music’s technology platform for training musicians and adapts it for training medics.

Another involves adapting a trumpet for lung therapy, to help people who suffer from cystic fibrosis and asthma (MTSC helped to connect the lead researcher on this project, the Royal College of Music’s assistant head of junior programmes Ben Storey, to the advanced hack space at Imperial, to build a prototype and develop the technology involved). As a result, RCM have now commercialised its first piece of technology IP.

To date, four separate cohorts supporting 55 early-career researchers are being helped through the MTSC, including some that are focused on particular challenges.

One group for example is looking at mental health. Projects include developing an algorithm for detecting the digital biomarkers of depression in people’s voices (in which UK company Affect AI partners with the Royal College of Psychiatrists, using the Royal College of Art’s expertise in voice recognition).

The final cohort is focused on the area of pain, in partnership with British pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline’s consumer health team NEXT.

“Traditionally it can take years to allow a company to spin out,” says Dr Sam Wilson of SERG Technologies, one of the researchers who has benefited from the MTSC’s support, “My team and I managed it in just months.” Within 10 months of joining, SERG Technologies managed to raise £558,000 in seed investment and grant funding, and filed its first patent.

MTSC is now in its final year. The first two cohorts have so far raised over £2.42 million in venture capital and further grant funding, with seven patents filed and five spin-out companies formed (all of them are raising seed funding and taking on staff).

The knowledge transfer between the institutions involved, and their growing connections to industry partners, means that they also gain, as well as the individual researchers. 

But ultimately it should be patients who benefit the most, in all kinds of areas where better medical technology means better quality of life.