Partnerships to create technologies of the future

People using technoilogy at M Squared in Southampton

Nine new partnerships bring together world-class expertise from a range of UK businesses and academia to develop technologies of the future and create new jobs.

The transformative technology they aim to develop includes ‘objects’ made up of sound waves that could replace touchscreens in car and personalised media platforms, which adapt to the preferences of viewers.

Transformative technology

Many of the partnerships will also help to achieve the UK’s net zero target. Examples include creating renewable new materials from sources including carbon capture for use in household products such as laundry detergents.

Other partnerships will look at how the process of drug and medicine discovery can be sped up and its efficiency improved.

The nine Prosperity Partnerships are funded with a £75 million investment from business, academia and UK Research and Innovation (UKRI).

Building on UK strengths

UKRI’s Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) will invest £23 million in the projects through its long-running Prosperity Partnerships initiative.

An additional £2.6 million will be invested in two partnerships through UKRI’s Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC).

They will build on existing UK strengths in industry and academia to develop new technologies, processes, and skills that will deliver economic growth and create jobs in areas across the UK.

Developing world class products

Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said:

As we build back better through innovation, we are putting the funding and structures in place so those at the top of their field – in business, research and academia – can develop world class products and technologies that could change all our lives for the better. The partnerships we are throwing our weight behind today all have innovation at their core.

The coronavirus pandemic has taught us how vital collaboration is between industry and science and I hope partnerships like this will help in our efforts to prepare for and respond to future pandemics.

By bringing together business and research expertise in regions across the UK, we will help to drive local economic growth and create highly skilled jobs, all while cementing the UK’s status as a science superpower.

They include a collaboration between Ultraleap and UCL to develop virtual ‘objects’ formed of acoustic sound waves that could be used in vehicles to replace touchscreen displays and reduce driver distraction.

A partnership between Unilever and the universities of Liverpool and Oxford aims to reduce the carbon footprint of consumer products such as shampoo and laundry detergent through improved chemical production.

Tackling key challenges

GSK will team up with the Francis Crick Institute to industrialise an emerging technology to improve the molecule design phase. This will help accelerate the development of new medicines, which can often be a long and complex process.

The funding will also see a partnership between:

  • FUJIFILM Diosynth Biotechnologies
  • The University of Edinburgh
  • The University of Manchester
  •  University of York.

This will utilise state-of-the-art tools and synthetic biology to improve the development of biological drugs and increase their cost-effectiveness.

Sustained investment

The partnerships announced today bring the total number of Prosperity Partnerships funded to 39.

Since 2017 total investment in Prosperity Partnerships has reached £274 million, including £110 million from EPSRC and UKRI partners and £131 million leveraged from 70 businesses.

EPSRC Executive Chair, Professor Dame Lynn Gladden, said:

To tackle key challenges, such as achieving net zero, and seize new opportunities we need to harness the world-class expertise of both industry and academia.

The Prosperity Partnerships announced today do this by supporting collaborations that will develop transformative new technologies with the potential to deliver societal impact and economic growth.

Further information

For further information contact James Giles-Franklin, UKRI External Communications, at and 07702 611906.

The Prosperity Partnerships are supported through an investment of £23 million from EPSRC, £2.6 million from BBSRC, £38 million from industry in cash and in-kind contributions and £11 million from universities.

Summaries of the partnerships

Ultraleap and UCL

The project will develop acoustic technologies that allow people to ‘feel’, ‘hear’ and ‘see’ virtual 3D objects and holograms.

Leveraging these technologies, the teams will create interactive mid-air applications that remove the boundaries between the physical and digital worlds.

Mid-air interfaces could have a wide range of potential uses including:

  • VR training simulators
  • novel user interfaces in cars
  • gaming machines
  • digital signage
  • interactive kiosks.

For example, mid-air interfaces can help reduce driver distraction during human-car interactions.

They could also reduce the spread of pathogens when interacting with public touchscreens and elevator panels by enabling buttons, dials and other controls to jump out of the screen like tactile holograms and find the user’s hands.

Similarly, this technology could be used to increase immersion, agency and software reconfigurability in VR and synthetic environments.

Lubrizol and the Universities of Nottingham and Warwick

Chemistry is fundamental to the UK’s manufacturing industries and is at the heart of most products that we rely on every day.

Chemicals company Lubrizol will partner with the Universities of Nottingham and Warwick in its ambitious mission to decarbonise the speciality chemicals industry.

Through its unique smart molecule design and energy resilient processes, it will use its chemistry to reduce the carbon foot prints of everyday consumer products such as soaps, athletic wear, medicines and cars.

GSK and the Francis Crick Institute

Developing new medicines is a long, complex process. This partnership will integrate cutting-edge genomics and machine learning technologies with next generation chemistry and chemoproteomics to accelerate the selection of targets with higher likelihood of success.

Drug researchers typically start their efforts by identifying specific protein targets implicated in disease and then conduct recurrent screening of chemical compounds in human cells.

In this collaboration, the partners will focus on the emerging technology of reactive fragments, which are essentially stripped-down versions of drug molecules. They are able to simultaneously identify drug targets and prototype molecules which can control their function in cells.

Overall, the aim of the partnership is to advance this technology to the point of industrialisation and improve the efficiency of medicine discovery for patients.

EDF, the University of Bristol, The University of Manchester, Imperial College London and the Science and Technology Facilities Council

The project will harness world-leading expertise to develop key components for digital twins; virtual models of physical entities. These can be used to assess the condition of components of energy generators such as nuclear power plants, and their need for maintenance or remedial work.

Delivering and operating safe and economic, major low-carbon energy generation assets, including nuclear power plants, can be achieved by updating, streamlining and automating their design, fabrication and life-time assessment.

This partnership, working with nuclear industry supply chain organisations, aims to develop cutting-edge digital tools that will simulate the behaviour of materials from their first use to the end of their life.

The project harnesses world-leading expertise from:

  • The Alan Turing Institute
  • The Henry Royce Institute
  • the Science and Technology Facilities Council Scientific Computing Department.

BBC, the University of Surrey and Lancaster University

Personalised media experiences, which are tailored to users’ preferences and their device, have the potential to create 100,000 jobs and drive annual growth of £2 billion to the UK by 2030.

This partnership will build on the BBC’s pioneering work in this area, whilst harnessing the universities’ expertise in audio-visual artificial intelligence (AI) and software-defined networks, together with the ability to run large-scale trials.

The goal of the project is to develop systems that produce and deliver personalised experiences for millions of people, whilst maintaining cost and energy efficiency.

FUJIFILM Diosynth Biotechnologies, the Universities of Edinburgh, Manchester and York: Co-funded by BBSRC

The partnership will utilise state-of-the-art tools and synthetic biology to improve the development of biological drugs from cells and make production more efficient.

These drugs, which bring together genetic material from different sources, have transformed the treatment of life-limiting diseases including cancer, haemophilia and rheumatoid arthritis.

This could have a major impact in terms of new drugs to treat various conditions. It also represents a major economic opportunity, with an increasing portion of all medicines, (currently estimated at 20%) being biopharmaceuticals. The global biologics market is predicated to reach a value of $319 billion this year.

Shell, Imperial College London and Diamond Light Source

The path to net-zero CO2 requires both innovation and optimisation of new technologies across the energy cycle from generation to storage, as well in mitigation such as carbon capture.

This partnership aims to improve the efficiency, stability and longevity of systems. It will do this by controlling the complex interfaces (the area where two interacting substances meet) on which these technologies rely, delivering a pathway to meet the UK’s ambitious targets for the energy transition.

Unilever and the Universities of Liverpool and Oxford

The partnership aims to help achieve the UK’s 2050 net zero goal by transforming the global chemical supply chain.

It will help to create renewable and biodegradable materials for use in consumer products like laundry detergent.

This partnership aims to develop new scientific platforms which will help researchers to design and invent sustainable materials from waste such as carbon capture and other renewable feedstocks, available for a wide range of uses.

M Squared, AstraZeneca (AZ), Dstl and the University of Southampton – Co-funded by BBSRC

The partnership aims to revolutionise the imaging technologies used to assess the effectiveness of new drug candidates in treating various conditions.

It aims to develop tools that will provide live, high resolution 3D images on a large scale. These will determine the impact of drug candidates in living spheroid, organoid and organ-on-a-chip systems that mimic real human physiology.

These living systems are miniaturised yet realistic versions of human tissue and organs that are derived from one or more types of biological cells.

This would provide an upgrade on current techniques which rely on the invasive and time-consuming process of using fluorescent light to determine their impact.

Working together with AZ, the team envisions that the development of these innovative new tools will allow for more effective characterisation of human disease. This will ultimately speed up the process of discovering and bringing more efficacious drugs to market.

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