Annual Review 2020: Enterprise

Multimillion-pound support for health technology in Cornwall

The future of the health technology sector in Cornwall received a major boost this year, thanks to a successful funding application by the University. A £4 million, three-year extension of the eHealth Productivity and Innovation in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly (EPIC) project was confirmed, ensuring experts can continue to support businesses in developing technology to address the challenges faced by communities and providers in coastal and rural settings. 

The project, led by the Centre for Health Technology, will also work to help patients, professionals and care commissioners become accustomed to new technology to encourage its adoption. Funded by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), EPIC 2 will again make £600,000 available to businesses through a Challenge Fund. It will also set up ‘the EPICentre’ at the Health and Wellbeing Innovation Centre in Truro, to showcase local eHealth products and services, and be somewhere companies, health and care professionals and others can come to view and work together on the design of new ones.

Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly face challenges because of rurality and the older population, but necessity is the mother of invention – that also becomes our advantage. By developing products and services that are needed locally, we can lead the country with that technology.

Ray Jones, Professor of Health Informatics, School of Nursing and Midwifery, and Project Lead for EPIC

Nurturing intellectual property

The University has an array of recently established spinout companies – all of which have been incorporated from cutting-edge research in science and medicine, and developed with the support of Frontier IP.

The Vaccine Group (TVG), created to commercialise the work of Dr Michael Jarvis, Associate Professor (Reader) in Virology and Immunology, raised £680,000 in equity funding to enhance its research into novel vaccine technologies. The additional funding, which values TVG at £9.5 million, will be used to accelerate development and expand the range of vaccines used to combat zoonotic diseases that jump from animals into humans.

Molendotech, launched in 2017 to develop and commercialise the work of Simon Jackson, Honorary Professor at the University’s Peninsula Medical School, secured considerable investment in April to speed the development of its novel bacteria-testing technology. The company, which is based at the University’s Brixham Laboratory, raised £425,000 from new and existing investors through an equity funding round. The investment will be used to accelerate and expand the applications of its technology, which has recently attracted strong interest internationally from potential customers concerned about secondary infections as they tackle the COVID-19 outbreak.

And finally, Fieldwork Robotics, which commercialises the work of Dr Martin Stoelen, raised £298,000 through an initial equity funding round. The proceeds will be used to accelerate development and scale-up of the company’s novel robotics technology for harvesting soft fruit and vegetables.

Fieldwork is now valued at just over £5 million. It has also signed an agreement with Bosch UK on a collaboration to optimise the company’s soft robotic arms and develop software aimed at reducing the arms’ cost and increasing their speed. The management of University IP to deliver real-world impact from its research will be a key component of impact case studies in the next Research Excellence Framework, which has been postponed from its original 2021 date.

Investment for innovative businesses

In addition to EPIC, the University also secured a seven-figure fund extension for another Cornwall-based programme supporting innovative businesses. A grant of £3.4 million was awarded by the ERDF to prolong the work of Acceleration Through Innovation (ATI) to 2022. ATI has so far engaged more than 580 businesses, awarded 48 innovation grants with a total value in excess of £1 million, and enabled 61 businesses to bring new products, services and processes to the market or their business. Phase 2 of ATI will make a further £500,000 of grants available for businesses in the Duchy.

This is an immensely challenging time for businesses and once we emerge from this situation, they are likely to need support more than ever. So, it is fantastic that we have secured additional funding, enabling us to continue our work with small- to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) across Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly. ATI2 will deliver high-value, high-impact interventions to SMEs with specific innovation needs that have the potential to lead to scalable and commercially viable new products, services or processes.

Jo Hancock, EPIC Programme Manager, Acceleration Through Innovation


New unmanned marine vessel joins University fleet

ERDF funding helped the University to secure a state-of-the-art unmanned marine vessel capable of conducting research off the south-west coast. The C-Worker 4 is the first major unmanned asset to join the University’s fleet of vessels and marine field equipment, and will be central to its participation in the Marine Business Technology Centre project. The vessel will also create opportunities for Devon-based SMEs to take part in collaborative research, development and innovation activities within the Smart Sound Plymouth offshore proving area.

This technology has the undoubted potential to be a game changer in the field, enabling us to capture data which can transform our understanding of the oceans and the impact climate change and other factors are having on them. It is also a fantastic opportunity for our students and staff, and the wider business community, to engage with the technology and develop new and innovative ways of applying it to their work.

Professor Kevin Jones, Executive Dean, Faculty of Science and Engineering

<p>Annual review waves<br></p>
<p>Annual Review Plymouth Sound<br></p>

Partnering in the National Marine Park

Plymouth Sound is a beautiful natural environment, and one that has contributed to the development of the largest marine research community in the country. The National Marine Park will only strengthen that, and will facilitate new links and collaborations with partners around the world.

Professor Richard Thompson OBE FRS, Director of the Marine Institute

The University is one of the leading partners working to create the UK’s first National Marine Park in Plymouth. Local, regional and national organisations from a variety of sectors have backed the project, which will showcase to the world the unique assets that Britain’s Ocean City has to offer, including an estimated 1,000 different species of marine life. In the process, it will help boost the economy, attract more visitors, and enable funding for research and a range of other benefits. A Declaration of Intent for Plymouth Sound National Marine Park was signed by civic leaders in the city, including Lewis Pugh, UN Patron of the Oceans, and Charles Clover, Executive Director of the Blue Marine Foundation. 

Examples of new research funding

In 2019–20, the University received almost £16 million in research income, with new awards and grants totalling nearly £12 million. Here are a few examples of awards in excess of £100,000. 

Principal Lead: Ray Jones

Sponsor: European Regional Development Fund (ERDF)
Description: EPIC 2: eHealth Productivity and Innovation in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly
Award Value: £3,043,260

Principal Lead: Kevin Jones
Sponsor: Research England
Description: Research England Development Fund for Maritime Cyber Project
Award Value: £1,682,000

Principal Lead: Elsa Fouragnan
Sponsor: UK Research and Innovation
Description: Mapping the neural circuit of credit assignment for a new targeted intervention in addiction
Award Value: £824,537

Principal Lead: Thomas Davies
Sponsor: Natural Environment Research Council
Description: Artificial Light Impacts on Coastal Ecosystems (ALICE)
Award Value: £711,836

Principal Lead: Jonathan Pinkney
Sponsor: NHS National Institute for Health Research
Description: PRO-GROUP: How are treatment outcomes for people with severe obesity ImPROved by GROUP-based behavioural intervention?
Award Value: £677,896

Principal Lead: Caroline Floccia
Sponsor: Economic and Social Research Council
Description: Language development in Arabic-speaking children in the early years: tackling the roots of academic and social inequalities
Award Value: £538,822

Principal Lead: Subrata Banerjee
Sponsor: Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council
Description: Radio Me: real-time radio remixing for people with mild-to-moderate dementia who live alone, incorporating agitation reduction and reminders
Award Value: £533,678

Principal Lead: Oliver Tills
Sponsor: Medical Research Council
Description: Development of a phenomics hub for industrial, biomedical and environmental applications
Award Value: £439,753

Principal Lead: William Sheaff
Sponsor: NHS National Institute for Health Research
Description: Evaluating approaches to health and care services’ commissioning and provision with the third sector in the UK
Award Value: £407,094

Principal Lead: Martyn Hann
Sponsor: Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council
Description: Extreme loading on floating offshore wind turbines under complex environmental conditions
Award Value: £389,691

Principal Lead: Richard Byng
Sponsor: NHS National Institute for Health Research
Description: Partners 2 Extension: evaluating the impact of general practice-based, coaching-based care for individuals with psychosis
Award Value: £384,607

Principal Lead: Jasper Graham-Jones
Sponsor: Interreg (EU – European Regional Development Fund)
Description: INdIGO: INnovative fishing Gear for Oceans, developing biodegradable fishing gear
Award Value: £336,922

Principal Lead: Richard Thompson OBE FRS
Sponsor: Interreg (ERDF)
Description: Preventing plastic pollution
Award Value: £331,429

Principal Lead: Deborah Greaves OBE FREng
Sponsor: Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council
Description: Collaborative Computational Project on Wave Structure Interaction+
Award Value: £312,512

Principal Lead: Mila Mileva
Sponsor: British Academy
Description: Multimodal person perception
Award Value: £294,150

Principal Lead: Adrian Dawson
Sponsor: UK Research and Innovation (UKRI)
Description: UKRI COVID-19 Grant Extension Allocation
Award Value: £286,592 

Principal Lead: Katharine Willis
Sponsor: European Regional Development Fund
Description: Green Minds: an Urban Innovative Actions-funded project, aiming to better connect people to green and blue spaces in and around Plymouth
Award Value: £257,310

Principal Lead: Ralph Fyfe
Sponsor: Leverhulme Trust
Description: Reclaiming Exmoor
Award Value: £248,612

Principal Lead: Jonathan Ellis
Sponsor: Leverhulme Trust
Description: Wherefore the magic? Investigating evolutionary hypotheses for the origin of psychedelic compounds in nature
Award Value: £242,910

Principal Lead: Arunangsu Chatterjee
Sponsor: Interreg (ERDF)
Description: Healthy ageing through innovation in rural Europe
Award Value: £227,729

Principal Lead: Jennifer Freeman
Sponsor: Medical Research Council
Description: Development and evaluation of a training package to support the remote assessment and management of people with movement impairment and disability
Award Value: £222,670

Principal Lead: Jonathon Miles
Sponsor: Interreg (ERDF)
Description: TIGER (Tidal Stream Industry Energiser) project
Award Value: £221,424

Principal Lead: Gerhard Masselink
Sponsor: Natural Environment Research Council
Description: Coastal REsistance: Alerts and Monitoring Technologies (CreamT)
Award Value: £177,672

Principal Lead: Richard Handy
Sponsor: European Commission – Horizon 2020
Description: NanoHarmony: towards harmonised test methods for nanomaterials
Award Value: £169,163

Principal Lead: Sian Rees
Sponsor: European Regional Development Fund
Description: Green Minds: an Urban Innovative Actions (UIA)-funded project, aiming to better connect people to green and blue spaces in and around Plymouth
Award Value: £168,366

Principal Lead: Kerry Howell
Sponsor: European Commission – Horizon 2020
Description: Mission Atlantic – developing and systematically applying an integrated ecosystem assessment at the Atlantic basin scale
Award Value: £164,769

Principal Lead: William Blake
Sponsor: Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council
Description: Integrated community-driven engagement for sustainable enhancement of food production in East Africa: the Jali Ardhi [Care for the Land] project
Award Value: £163,839

Principal Lead: Nicholas Axford
Sponsor: Youth Endowment Fund
Description: Feasibility and pilot evaluation of transition hub for looked-after children and those on the edge of care
Award Value: £158,873

Principal Lead: Helen Lloyd
Sponsor: GambleAware
Description: A mixed-method investigation of the gaming/gambling interface
Award Value: £150,839

Principal Lead: Sabine Pahl
Sponsor: United Nations
Description: Global stock-taking exercise on current actions to eliminate marine plastic litter and microplastics
Award Value: £145,517

Principal Lead: Marie Bryce
Sponsor: General Dental Council
Description: The concept of seriousness in fitness-to-practise cases
Award Value: £124,779

Principal Lead: Mario Gianni
Sponsor: Innovate UK
Description: Knowledge Transfer Partnership with AB Precision Ltd (Innovate) KTP011575
Award Value: £122,792

Principal Lead: Kerry Howell
Sponsor: Natural Environment Research Council
Description: SMARTEX (Seabed Mining And Resilience To EXperimental impact)
Award Value: £112,179


Research and Enterprise

The University has a proud reputation for conducting world-leading, impactful research across a broad range of fields. From health technologies to heritage; marine sciences to medicine; psychology to sustainability. And alongside these sustained peaks of excellence, the University is fast developing a critical mass of expertise in emerging, exciting areas such as agritechnology, antimicrobial resistance, cybersecurity and creative economies.

Our University draws upon its location to maximise these research strengths. Across marine sciences and maritime, we’re able to take advantage of the breathtaking natural environment of Plymouth Sound (the first National Marine Park), as well as the many marine-related companies that are based here. To this natural laboratory we have added a waterfront Marine Station, home to our expanding fleet of research and teaching vessels, and a nationally leading Marine Building, with its wave tanks and navigation centre, and we are developing a cutting-edge Cyber-SHIP Lab to tackle the issue of cybersecurity in the maritime sector.

In health and care research, we take advantage of our co-location and partnership with the University Hospitals Plymouth NHS Trust. Our Derriford Research Facility, located adjacent to the hospital, is home to medical and biomedical experts conducting research into areas such as infection and immunity, neurodegenerative diseases, brain tumours and antimicrobial resistance.

We are leading the development of potentially the first new antibiotic in 30 years and the first vaccines for the animal population against COVID-19. And adding to our first-class facilities, a new Brain Research and Imaging Centre is due to open, which will include the most advanced MRI scanner in the region.

Finally, our Sustainable Earth Institute (SEI) – our third overarching strategic research institute – continues to build innovative partnerships with industry and government, not just here in the South West, but also overseas. Operating from the new Sustainability Hub on campus, the SEI acts as a catalyst whereby University expertise can be applied to a range of challenges, from the low carbon agenda to water quality and food security in the developing world. Over the following pages, we present some of the developments and successes that have defined the year, including the publication of groundbreaking work in high-impact journals, the winning of major funding grants, our partnerships with industry, and the recognition of our staff in identifying and solving problems of global significance. The University’s research community is flourishing, ready to respond to global challenges and opportunities.

Professor Jerry Roberts
Deputy Vice-Chancellor – Research and Enterprise