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Oxford is to take part in three new government-funded projects designed to help universities collaborate with each other, and with external organisations, to boost research commercialisation.
Healthy ageing, the internet of things, and commercialisation in the social sciences are the three themes with involvement from Oxford academics. Oxford is leading the programme on healthy ageing, is a partner in the Sheffield University-led internet of things project, and will also participate in the social sciences initiative led by LSE.
The projects are funded via Research England (formerly the Higher Education Funding Council for England) through its Connecting Capability Fund (CCF). This £100m fund supports university collaboration in research commercialisation with the aims of sharing good practice across the higher education sector, forging external technological, industrial and regional partnerships, and helping deliver the government's industrial strategy priorities.
Oxford recently launched its 150th spinout company based on University research. In 2018 alone, six new companies have been formed and more than £150m has been raised in external investment.
Professor Chas Bountra of Oxford's Nuffield Department of Clinical Medicine is leading the healthy ageing programme, titled UK SPINE KE and also involving Birmingham and Dundee universities. Announced last autumn in the first wave of CCF awards, the £4.82m project will establish a UK-wide network across universities, businesses and the NHS focused on improving health in old age.
Professor Bountra said: 'The UK has many brilliant universities, a national health service with a large clinical research infrastructure and health data on more than 65 million individuals, a biomedical industry with a track record of producing life changing medicines, more translational and venture capital funds per capita than any other country in Europe, a large and growing pool of entrepreneurs, and a global leadership position in open innovation and collaboration. We will leverage all these strengths to accelerate and create new knowledge exchange mechanisms in order to help pharmaceutical companies develop new medicines for patients and create many more new companies and new high skilled jobs. Our focus will be on new therapies for diseases associated with ageing – a major challenge facing all societies across the world.'
This week's second wave of announcements includes the £4.9m internet of things project, titled Pitch-In, which is led by Sheffield and involves Oxford, Cambridge and Newcastle universities as partners. The internet of things (IoT) refers to the interconnection of computing capability in discrete objects or processes – including everyday items such as the Amazon Echo smart control system – which enables them to send and receive data and which is considered critical to the UK's industrial, societal and economic development. Pitch-In aims to produce benefits for the UK from IoT technologies via wide-scale collaboration between academic institutions and the public and private sectors. It will in particular target the manufacturing, health and infrastructure (energy and transport) sectors.
The project's lead on energy, Professor Malcolm McCulloch of Oxford's Department of Engineering Science, said: 'The IoT has a huge role to play in the transformation towards a low-carbon energy system, where generation will be renewable-based, intermittent and decentralised. Pitch-In is a very exciting project that will undertake multi-disciplinary work to identify new market opportunities and complement large multi-disciplinary projects under way at Oxford, including the Oxford Martin School-funded project on integrating large-scale renewable energy.'
Oxford will also take part in an LSE-led £5m consortium, featuring Manchester and Sussex universities as partners, set up to promote business engagement and entrepreneurship based on research in the social sciences. The project aims to develop, implement and scale up a globally leading social sciences commercialisation ecosystem in the UK. Titled ASPECT, the programme will bring together the best social science ideas with leading businesses and entrepreneurs to create new products and businesses that will help solve pressing social challenges and improve productivity.
Professor Mark Pollard from Oxford's Social Sciences Division said: 'It is hugely exciting to work with our partners on ASPECT, which builds on Oxford's recent strategic investment in business engagement for social sciences and humanities. This cutting-edge project will develop new methods and support for commercialisation of social sciences research, providing a sense of direction across the sector.
'It is time to unlock the huge potential of social sciences research. Working together with businesses we will help them to future-proof themselves using research-based insights into human behaviour, developing new products and tools, creating efficiencies and productivity, and facilitating take-up of new technologies among customers. Putting people and human behaviour at the centre of our efforts to drive forward the economy will create a stronger UK.'