De-risking innovation for
– a knowledge exchange
Matching emerging technologies with growing markets: Small, sensitive and low-cost silicon biosensor technologies
Preliminary freedom to operate analysis, prior art, novelty and
This guide explains how supporting innovation at an early stage
(Technology Readiness Levels 1-2) – rather than solely the later stages
that a KEC practitioner might usually work at – will accelerate technology progression. It takes key learning points from Translate, a HEFCE Catalyst-funded (now Office for Students) programme established to improve health and wealth in the Leeds City Region by translating ideas into new medical technologies.
This is a step-by-step good practice guide that can be applied to a wide
range of technologies, across several stages of development, to de-risk technologies at an early stage. This early support will lead to better commercial potential and later-stage adoption.
It includes practical quick guides with tips and useful documents, which
can be used to deliver some of the suggested activities. There are also
case studies to illustrate the process with real examples.
As a Knowledge Exchange and Commercialisation (KEC) practitioner, you translate research outcomes into products and services that have an economic and social impact – often with endless complexities. It can be a long, complex and difficult journey.
Reducing the risk and uncertainty associated with new technologies is more likely to open the door for private sector investment to develop commercial products and deliver economic benefits. Managing risk is crucial to businesses working at the forefront of novel technologies.
Our experience has found that by focusing on early-stage innovation in a proactive way – through activities that identify problems, generate new ideas, and build productive teams – technology innovation projects are more likely
to lead to success. We have also discovered that investing our time into one specific sector – building knowledge and expertise, developing capability and capacity, and creating a network of academics, research users, and innovation enablers – greatly increases the chance of innovation success.
This easy to follow innovation process can be applied to a wide range of technologies and sectors, across several stages of development.
Your goal is to de-risk technologies
at an early stage: accelerating the
innovation process, and making
technologies more attractive to
industry. The stages are:
The process is iterative,
and each stage ends in a
stage-gate with four options:
This core model is underpinned by activities like building a technology innovation network, and brokering project teams
around specific technologies.
Teams may enter and exit the process at any stage, depending on the technology. These teams – a mix of academic, industry and end-user representatives – are the core unit that, together with the technology, travel through the process.
formation of ideas
Repetition of the stage
Advance to the next stage
Disengage with the project
Hand over to a partner or collaborator
Throughout this process there are low barriers for academics and researchers to engage with innovation and translation.
Each cycle or iteration brings a new learning opportunity that builds retained innovation capability.
Explore the process: you can enter at any stage depending on the maturity of your technology project
Your activities should focus on bringing people together around market needs and technology opportunities. The most productive activities include:
academic technologies, or unmet industry or user needs, and develops them into packages for further exploration of their potential
This stage starts with:
Partnering with a strategically aligning organisation, programme or end-user group can help you to:
frame the need or problem
access a wider network of specialists and experts
Partner with user group
Tailor the topic
Identify preliminary market opportunities
Build preliminary team
Assess project and networking
By the end of the process you will
have formed your earliest
concept and team
Produce skeleton projects
The best teams combine academic, industry and end-users:
optimising the understanding of target unmet needs, and late stage development factors. You can broker new partnerships to create
teams with the right knowledge and skills.
The team should focus on the creation of value
propositions around the core technology, and develop
a deeper understanding of the commercial opportunity.
The value propositions can be developed through an
iterative process, which guides the team in developing ideas
and evidencing the applicability of the technology to each
particular market need.
a target technology
This stage starts with:
Some examples of end users
in different sectors:
The iterative process can start with any
of the four major activities:
Repeat and develop
The outcome of this stage
is a value proposition and
a ‘business case’, including: technical feasibility, market attributes, user group profiles, commercial pull, commercial state of the art, competitors, and potential commercial partners.
Repeat and develop
Repeat and develop
Repeat and develop
Your team can then use this information to turn the value proposition into funding bids or pitches to industry partners.
Commercialisation roadmapping has three main areas:
This stage starts with:
a value proposition
This stage starts with:
Identify funding opportunities
Refine project team
Matching emerging technologies with growing markets: Small, sensitive and low-cost silicon biosensor technologies
You can simply guide your teams as to the aims and objectives of the proof of concept process to effectively attract industrial partnership, while the teams themselves focus on the technical implementation.
This marks the end
of the early-stage
Proof of commercial concept
Technical product performance
Validation and vertification
Experiments and analysis
This mapping exercise takes a structured and objective approach to determine skills, strengths, needs and challenges based on an analysis of the innovation participants (such as academics, local industry, supply chain and end-user organisations).
The ‘map’ can be used to
target activities (such as innovation workshops) at the real strengths, skills, and needs
identify gaps in support and places for adding value,
which can help target your efforts
form the basis of your innovation network.
Having an understanding in detail of the innovation ecosystem will allow you to engage more rapidly, closely, and successfully in identifying problems, creating technology solutions, and brokering partnerships.
Building a multi-stakeholder network is crucial. It will enable you
to deliver successful innovation workshops, reinforce and build the capability of project teams, and ultimately to drive better early-stage technology innovation and translation.
Network activities could include innovation workshops, as well as networking events, technology showcases, and activities focused
on professional development.
Supply chain and end-user consultation workshops, and relationship brokering on behalf of technologies and projects teams can both widen your network and provide direct value to the teams themselves.
Innovation ecosystem mapping
There are several additional activities that can add significant value to this early stage innovation process.
Project pioneers are often academics with a technology that can
solve one or more problems or address several unmet market needs.
Once a project pioneer has been identified, you will need to assess the development level of the technology, and map the engagement which can
most effectively take it to early stage technology transfer.
Your analysis should include assessing and understanding the technology or unmet needs, potential project aims, the current team focused around the project, and any gaps in the resources, skills and knowledge attached to the project.
Engagement with these academics may come from one of your
project sourcing activities or from the academic connecting with you directly.
Project pioneers from industry, supply chains or end-users may be the starting point for a project, originating from your innovation network.
A pro-active approach to the formation of ideas is through project scouting: identifying academics with technologies with high innovation potential, who may be unaware of its possibilities or how to develop it.
This quick guide outlines a quick and productive way to bringing people together and explore ideas around market needs and technology opportunities. Read more about the formation of ideas – part of the process for early-stage innovation.
This quick guide…
Freedom to operate (FTO): determining if your project infringes intellectual property rights of others
Prior art: any evidence that your invention is already known (EPO)
IP landscaping: a snapshot of the patent situation of a specific technology
1. Talk to the academic
They may consider their technology to be unique,
and it is your role to check
as early as possible that is
2. Check the novelty
of the technology
Tip! Start with a user-friendly patent database
Choose a user-friendly resource that searches patent databases such as the EPO and USPTO. Results can be ordered by relevance, grouped by industries, and filtered by sub industries.
These resources are licensed software that must be
3. Delve deeper with
a manual search
Use patent search tools provided
by national and regional patent offices.
Typically this would include
Espacenet (EPO) and the USPTO
Using the comprehensive databases provides access to global dossiers of paperwork including examiners notes, to get a better understanding of your FTO.
4. Adjust your
Your findings may uncover competitors operating in
At this point you may need
to adjust the geographical markets your technology might launch in, or the scope of the technology application.
5. Consider a
Assess if it is worthwhile paying a patent attorney to complete a full Freedom to Operate search.
This can cost roughly £100+ for a UK search, £1500+ for a European search.
6. Review the patent landscape
Preparing a report on the IP landscape
will influence the facets of the technology and give you confidence in the technology opportunity before paying for a patent attorney.
The report will also give insight into potential collaborators or licensees
for the technology.
The report will also provide insight into competitors who may try to stop the development of the technology.
7. Producing the report
Using patent search tools again, prepare a list on
intelligence you have uncovered:
Patent reference number.
Title of patent.
A brief description of what the patent is for.
A description of how it will affect the project,
including similarities it has with the technology in question.
You could also include the most relevant claims, and
the search terms you used in the report – and the success rate/hits back from the searches.
If you find
a potenital infringement , you are obliged to notify your patent attorney
Translate is a partnership between the universities of Leeds, Bradford, Huddersfield, Leeds Beckett and York that works to improve health and wealth by translating early-stage ideas into new medical technologies.
Translate aims to:
Translate’s approach to supporting and progressing projects relies
on ensuring that innovative ideas are validated in the market place
at the earliest possible stage. This process focuses on developing technologies with the greatest potential and making sure they meet
the needs of end users.
We talk to academics right at the start of their project development. Patients, carers and clinical professionals who might ultimately use the products are also consulted early in the process, and this input helps influence the direction taken. We introduce academics to the right people, forming longer term partnerships with commercial organisations, academic collaborators or clinical and patient representatives. Getting this right puts our research teams in great shape to apply for funding and accelerate their technology along the translational pipeline.
Funded by HEFCE (now Office for Students), the programme provides researchers at the partner universities with access to a dedicated innovation team experienced in progressing technologies to market. It also provides a model for successful innovation, innovation training and development, and collaboration within the higher education sector.
We often kick-start this process through innovation workshops.
At the start of the programme we mapped out existing academic expertise across the region, and identified areas of the healthcare system where this could be best applied.
This enabled us to develop a range of workshop themes, such as assistive technology, wound care, and long term health conditions. The workshops are delivered in partnership with regional and national clinical organisations, and bring together diverse groups of people – including academics, industry, patients, clinicians and commissioners – to discuss specific unmet clinical needs and develop potential solutions.
Partnerships developed at the workshops have then been supported by Translate’s Technology Innovation Managers – taking them through the value proposition creation, mapping and proof of concept stages – leading to some truly innovative projects.
We’ve developed capability in other ways too, for example, technology scouting through our roadshows and surgeries held in our partner institutions have enabled us to support academics through action learning.
Our interventions have also introduced academics from different disciplines to the medtech space, actively supporting and facilitating technology convergence.
Our achievements: 2.5 years of early-stage innovation:
project opportunities identified
companies actively participating
clinicians actively participating
public sector income generated
engagements with additional universities
Support from Translate has helped Professor Joe Sweeney
to develop several potential clinical applications for his
early stage technology: a simple chemical process to
create florescent compounds.
The first application – using dyes for florescent image-guided surgery – was spotted by Translate Technology Innovation Manager, Dr Danielle Miles, following a preliminary market opportunity analysis which looked at where florescent dyes
are currently used in the medtech and healthcare sectors.
Translate put Professor Sweeney in touch with Professor
David Jayne from the University of Leeds, who is interested
in applying this technology in colorectal cancer surgery,
to see if the fluorescent compounds could be used to
precisely map the boundary of a tumour during surgery,
to ensure complete resection.
Professor Jayne then introduced Professor Sweeney to a collaboration, led by the University of Glasgow, developing capsule endoscopy – an pill that would be swallowed and then enable a patient’s bowels to be imaged. And a further contact has been made, through Translate, with medical technology firm Neotherix, who are interested in the dyes as part of their work on wound scaffolds for oral infections.
Professor Sweeney’s compounds have a number of attributes that differentiate them from florescent dyes already in use, in terms of their colours, what they are made from and how
easily they penetrate membranes.
To help Professor Sweeney and the University of Huddersfield decide if this constituted enough to warrant a patent, Dr Miles did a preliminary analysis, to assess what intellectual property already existed and how much novelty the technology offered. This work enabled a patent on
the technology to be filed in February 2017.
“It’s very difficult to assess the market and potential impact of a product that doesn’t yet exist,
so Translate’s support in this has been really helpful,” says Professor Sweeney, who is now at Lancaster University. “I’ve been impressed not only with the quality of the work they’ve done for us, but the speed at which they’ve done it, which has been key to moving our project forward.”
Dr Mel Cooper from the University of Bradford’s Faculty of Health Studies was almost ready to give up on her research idea to improve the post-natal hospital discharge process, but then she was put in touch with Translate.
“I’d hit a real block when a grant bid was rejected, but working
with Translate got the project moving again.
The issue we want to tackle is the excess of information given
to women when they leave hospital after giving birth, mostly leaflets but some verbal. The reality is women just don’t take
it all in, especially if there are any language issues as well.
Our idea, developed with Professor Mohammed Mohammed,
is a digital animation to show women at discharge, to convey
the most important information they need to retain.
On Translate’s advice, we broke down the project into smaller sections, to open up more funding options and allow us to focus. Because advice on the mother’s risk of sepsis was very patchy,
we chose this first.
Translate’s suggestion – and funding – for focus groups to strengthen our case was really key.
We ran three to ensure a wide demographic: with student midwives about to qualify, with migrant women and with women who’d paid for antenatal education through the NCT.
They all said the same thing: with midwives over-stretched and women keen to get home,
there’s too much information at discharge, advice is not consistent and it’s too rushed.
They agreed an animation would be better.
We found a suitable funder but the deadline was really tight – just ten days – plus we had to find a partner company. Without Translate, that would have been impossible. Through their strong regional links they recommended HMA in Barnsley, set up and attended the first meeting, and supported us to prepare the funding bid. With the findings and evidence from the focus groups, it was successful!
We’re now working on a prototype animation and app and Translate is supporting us to run
more consultations with stakeholders. The prototype and additional user feedback will help
us get more funding to develop the final version and build the evidence base to support
adoption into the NHS. Translate has already suggested larger pots of money we can bid for. Their support has been brilliant, helping to keep me motivated.”
Scanning technology that can reveal bacteria in wounds and help monitor the healing process could enable nurses to make better treatment decisions for patients.
A partnership between 3D-scanning specialists, Cadscan,
the University of York and the NIHR Wound Prevention and Treatment Healthcare Technology Cooperative (WoundTEC HTC) is working to develop software that can deliver objective information about wounds via an app.
A workshop organised jointly by Translate and the WoundTEC HTC provided the springboard for the project, which has since been awarded funding by Innovate UK. The workshop brought together researchers and industry partners who have the technical expertise, with clinicians working in the field of
Helen Petrie, Professor of Computer Science at the University
of York, who is designing a user interface for the software, says: “New technology is often developed without enough attention to how people are actually going to use it, so being able to discuss this early on from a clinical point of view was really important.”
Dr Alastair Buchanan, Managing Director of Cadscan agrees: “The value of the Translate workshop was in being able to get together with clinicians who really know their stuff and
can clearly articulate the challenge that needs to be addressed.”
The system the team is developing could be used in the clinic or by community nurses carrying out home visits. They would take a picture of the wound using a specialist camera which uses multi-spectral imaging to locate any bacteria.
The team is also developing methods of extracting and analysing complex visual information from the images. This will enable the images to be further processed via an app on a tablet to give objective information about the severity or the type of infection and, over time, assess how well and how rapidly the wound is healing.
The app will also link to guidance from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, providing recommended treatment options.
“Our aim is to give community nurses rapid access to good quality guidance based on objective measures of the wound, making wound diagnosis and treatment more accurate
and more efficient,” says Professor Petrie.
Silicon photonic biosensors, used to detect disease biomarkers, are already in use in biomedical laboratories. But they require bulky, expensive instrumentation to process the information they provide and this means
they can’t be used directly with patients.
Professor Thomas Krauss and his team at the University of York are developing a highly sensitive alternative that can be read by
a simple camera. The technology would enable low cost, reliable hand-held devices to be used to get read outs from his sensors. Enabling tests to be conducted at patient bedsides would reduce delays in diagnosis, and potentially transform the marketplace for point of care diagnostics.
The potential applications for this innovation are very broad,
but Translate has been providing Professor Krauss with the commercial and clinical knowledge needed to focus on the
right market sector.
“As an academic, I like playing with ideas and trying out new things, but that’s not the best way to bring a product to market,” says Professor Krauss. “Translate understands the market and the clinical context, which helps to keep a focus on the real problem you’re looking to tackle.”
Translate carried out an initial market assessment and used this to help Professor Krauss draft a pathways to impact statement for a successful £1.1m bid to the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.
Professor Krauss will be using this funding to improve the sensitivity of his biosensors to the detection levels of more expensive sensors. The grant will also enable him to carry out proof of concept work using human urine samples – a crucial step towards commercialisation.
In addition, Translate has acted as a conduit between Professor Krauss and a technology transfer company, which is interested in either forming a spin-out company or licensing
the technology. The aim has been to move the technology forward as fast as possible
towards commercialisation. And, says Professor Krauss, they’ve made the process very enjoyable as well.
“I look forward to the meetings with Translate – the Technology Innovation Managers
are very positive and encouraging which bolsters your enthusiasm,” he says. “With their understanding of suppliers, users and clinicians, they really help you to see beyond
the academic ivory tower.”
Dr Josephine Dixon-Hardy, Director of Medical Technologies Innovation
Dr Lisa Hill, Innovation Development Manager
Dr Danielle Miles, Technology Innovation Manager
Dr Sean Clarkson, Technology Innovation Manager
Rowan Grant, Communications and Engagement
Manager, Author of this Good Practice Guide
The University of Leeds has a long track record of successful collaboration in medtech, progressing medical technologies through to market. The Translate programme builds on a tried and tested approach to medtech innovation developed over many years through the Medical Technologies Innovation and Knowledge Centre (IKC)
Translate Executive Management Group
Andrew Aldridge, Medical Technologies IKC
Andy Duley, University of Leeds
Chris Herbert, University of Leeds
Graeme Howling, Medical Technologies IKC
Chris Hudson, Leeds Beckett University
Gary Jones, Leeds Beckett University
Karen Ousey, University of Huddersfield
Angela Rutherford, University of Bradford
Stephen Smith, University of York
Julian Sorrell, Leeds Beckett University
John Steele, University of Bradford
Liam Sutton, University of Bradford
Joe Sweeney, University of Huddersfield
Barry Timmins, University of Huddersfield
Pete Twigg, University of Bradford
Jim Walsh, University of York
Geoff Whiteley, University of York
Dr Alex Booth, Full Spectrum Innovation Ltd
Office for Students