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£20M to fight virtual crime and treat our ageing population

Visit  EPSRC websiteInnovate UK website

20 November 2008

Fighting virtual crime, treating an ageing population, and turning research into commercial enterprises, will be the focus of a £20M investment announced today by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), Technology Strategy Board and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC).

This new investment will create two new centres in areas where world-class scientific breakthroughs have already been achieved. These ‘Innovation and Knowledge Centres’ (IKCs) will mix business knowledge with the most up-to-date research to harness the full potential of emerging technologies – ensuring the UK is first to develop this cutting-edge research.

The two new centres will be based at Queen’s University Belfast and the University of Leeds. Belfast’s new centre will work to secure our information architecture, and safeguard the trustworthiness of information stored electronically, including countering malicious ‘cyber-attack’. The University of Leeds Centre will work on regenerative techniques and technologies to treat the common ailments of an ageing population.

EPSRC’s Chief Executive, Professor David Delpy, said "Taking exciting research from the university laboratory to the commercial sector through close collaboration with user stakeholders is vital to ensuring the UK's economy continues to be innovative and globally competitive.

EPSRC is strongly committed to supporting universities in commercialising their outstanding research and I applaud the innovative approach taken by the successful applicants, and all competing universities."

Minister of State for Science and Innovation, Lord Drayson, said "More public money than ever before is being spent on world leading research into the strategic challenges facing the UK – such as the world’s ageing population and security.

He continued: "The investment in these two new Innovation and Knowledge Centres will foster an entrepreneurial environment where ground-breaking research can mix at an early stage with business and potential customers, to provide a clear commercial strategy for accelerating its impact on the economy. This is exactly what the UK needs."

Improving our “cyber security”

Currently, with around 1 trillion devices with the ability to access the internet, connectivity has never been easier. However, with global connectivity comes global vulnerability in terms privacy, security and trustworthiness of information. Secure information technologies are vital in the 21st Century information age if the relentless developments in computer, communications and network technologies are to continue. "Cyber-attack", including financial and economic attack, is arguably now a very serious national and international issue.

Belfast’s new IKC will develop secure solutions to a number of particularly modern problems – from protecting mobile phone networks to the creation of secure ‘corridors’ for the seamless and rapid transit of people, circumventing the need for conventional security at airports

Treating an ageing population

The University of Leeds IKC will focus on healthcare innovation, in particular the emerging field of regenerative therapies. The centre will pioneer physical and biological treatments to help patients deal with a variety of ailments that will affect an active, but ageing population.

Researchers are working on using emerging novel technologies in biological scaffolds, nano-biomaterials and self-assembling peptides to enhance and accelerate the regeneration of tissues by harnessing the power of endogenous stem cells.

Applications for the research are numerous, with clear opportunities in treating cardiovascular disease and cancer, as well as aiding those with musculoskeletal disease. The team are also working on a range of longer-lasting hip replacements.

Turning ground-breaking research into commercial enterprises

The Innovation and Knowledge Centres will foster an entrepreneurial environment where ground-breaking research can mix at an early stage with business and, in some cases, the customer to provide a clear commercial strategy for accelerating its exploitation.

Focussing on exciting and emerging research areas, fast-tracking sophisticated technologies will bring a ‘first-mover’ advantage in an area of already proven commercial opportunity.

The centres will ensure the UK is able to capitalise fully on the research, generating significant local and national benefits. The centres will become ‘self-financing’ within five years.

The centres will also provide opportunities for students to develop, with Leeds’s centre alone offering opportunities for 50 innovation fellows and 50 innovation PhDs.


Notes to editors

About the Innovation and Knowledge Centres

  • Innovation and Knowledge Centres are centres of excellence with five years' funding to accelerate and promote business exploitation of an emerging research and technology field. Their key feature is a shared space and entrepreneurial environment, in which researchers, potential customers and skilled professionals from both academia and business can work side-by-side to scope applications, business models and routes to market
  • Invitations to submit to a second call for the newly branded Innovation and Knowledge Centres (previously called Integrated Knowledge Centres) were sent to university Vice-Chancellors in December 2007
  • This call builds on the successes of the two Integrated Knowledge Centres which were funded through a pilot call in November 2005:
  • Research Council support for each of the new Innovation and Knowledge Centres will consist of up to £6.95M funding over 5 years with a further £2.5M from the Technology Strategy Board
  • University support of at least £2M is required for all applications for Innovation and Knowledge Centres. This could include, for example, a contribution towards infrastructure, buildings, or the redeployment of existing doctoral training account or collaborative training account provision
  • Funding is also conditional on up front letters of support from business partners to explain the Innovation and Knowledge Centre's business relevance and targets for their contribution. Indicative levels of support from other sponsors such as the Regional Development Agencies and Devolved Administrations is also required

Queen’s University Belfast - Centre for Secure Information Technologies (CSIT)

Based at the ECIT institute on the site of Harland and Wolff’s iconic shipyard, Belfast’s new Centre for Secure Information Technologies will work to create the security infrastructure to protect us from 21st Century threats.

Relentless developments in computer, communications and network technologies continue to radically transform society in a manner unimaginable – even a decade ago. With an estimated 1 trillion devices able to access the internet from anywhere in the world, the ability to connect to global networks is unprecedented.

But with global connectivity comes global vulnerability. Domestically the UK spent over £2.3Bn on IT security products in 2006, with around a £30bn global market, and this is just one area that CSIT will focus on.

Belfast’s new Innovation and Knowledge Centre will bring together research specialists in complementary fields such as data encryption, network security systems, wireless enabled security systems and intelligent surveillance technology.

Professor John McCanny, Queens’ IKC believes: "The relentless developments in technology, in particular the ability to connect to the internet, create a number of new opportunities for attack – from the relatively minor theft of personal information to threats to the world banking system.

"We are working on the solutions to some of these problems. From protecting mobile phone networks; to guaranteeing privacy over untrusted networks, for example for connected healthcare; to the creation of secure ‘corridors’ for the seamless and rapid transit of people, circumventing the need for conventional security at airports for example.

"We are also working on very powerful computer processors capable of detecting and filtering viruses and worms to protect mass information databases like financial records from malicious attack and to facilitate high definition video services.

"The ECIT Centre in Belfast is already a leading facility in Information Security and the new Innovation and Knowledge Centre will significantly strengthen this. We already employ over 140 people at the facility and have seen a number of spin-out companies.

"We feel this investment and our developments could lead to the UK becoming a leader in the secure information field, and have identified over 1,500 UK based companies that could benefit from our developments."

Leeds University - Regenerative Therapies Innovation and Knowledge Centre

The increasing life expectancy of the UK’s population poses specific challenges to the medical profession, with an essential need to remain fit and active.

The Innovation and Knowledge Centre in Leeds, co-funded by EPSRC, BBSRC and the Technology Strategy Board, aims to create new and revolutionary treatment methods based on cell-regeneration techniques to treat a variety of age-related ailments.

Researchers are working on using emerging novel technologies in biological scaffolds, nano-biomaterials and self-assembling peptides to enhance and accelerate the regeneration of tissues by harnessing the power of endogenous stem cells.

Building on pre-existing research and technology, the centre will focus on musculoskeletal disease, dentistry, cardiovascular disease and cancer.

Professor John fisher, Director of the Regenerative Therapies Centre said: "We are working on technologies to help the UK’s ageing population, with ’50 more years after 50’ as our principle.

"The IKC grant is a great opportunity for us to develop new and exciting regeneration therapies and devices. In pioneering both physical and biological interventions, we hope to make life easier to improve quality of life for those over 50."

It is hoped that the new centre will help fast-track innovations from the lab to the real world in around half the time previously taken by developing pre-clinical simulation methods to act as surrogates for clinical trials. Currently, time taken to get a technology or treatment to market is around 10–15 years – the team hope to reduce this to between 5 and 10.

Researchers also hope to create a robust and sustainable platform for knowledge transfer.

Leeds University already has significant experience and funding in this area, and are controlling an investment fund of over £100M. Working closely with national and international partners including the NHS, Johnson & Johnson and wide-ranging international networks, the centre is well-placed to capitalise on its achievements.

The centre will also provide career development opportunities for hundreds of academics, including offering opportunities for 50 innovation fellows and 50 innovation PhDs.


The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) is the UK’s main agency for funding research in engineering and the physical sciences. The EPSRC invests around £800M a year in research and postgraduate training, to help the nation handle the next generation of technological change. The areas covered range from information technology to structural engineering, and mathematics to materials science. This research forms the basis for future economic development in the UK and improvements for everyone’s health, lifestyle and culture. EPSRC also actively promotes public awareness of science and engineering. EPSRC works alongside other Research Councils with responsibility for other areas of research. The Research Councils work collectively on issues of common concern via Research Councils UK.

About the Technology Strategy Board

The Technology Strategy Board is a business-led executive non-departmental public body, established by the government. Its role is to promote and support research into, and development and exploitation of, technology and innovation for the benefit of UK business, in order to increase economic growth and improve the quality of life. It is sponsored by the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills (DIUS). For further information please visit


The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) is the UK funding agency for research in the life sciences. Sponsored by Government, BBSRC annually invests around £420M in a wide range of research that makes a significant contribution to the quality of life for UK citizens and supports a number of important industrial stakeholders including the agriculture, food, chemical, healthcare and pharmaceutical sectors.

BBSRC will contribute up to £3.5M over 5 years to the Leeds Innovation and Knowledge Centre (IKC). This is part of an ongoing exploration of the IKC model as a mechanism to encourage commercialization and impact from excellent research through a centre-based approach.

About the University of Leeds

The University of Leeds is one of the largest higher education institutions in the UK with more than 30,000 students from 130 countries. With a turnover of £450M, Leeds is one of the top 10 research universities in the UK, and a member of the Russell Group of research-intensive universities.

Professor John Fisher leads the University's Institute of Medical and Biological Engineering, which is dedicated to creating new therapies to improve our quality of life as we age. The Institute is developing novel tissue products and a new generation of joint replacements to enable our bodies to keep pace with our longer lives and ensure we enjoy older age in the best possible health and comfort.

About Queens University Belfast

CSIT will be located within Queen’s University’s Institute of Electronics Communications and Information Technology (ECIT). ECIT (now 140 people) which opened in 2004. ECIT is a specially designed 4000m2 building, located off-campus, that has brought together research specialists in complementary fields of Electronics and Computer Science and has now established extensive global industrial and university research connections and collaborations. ECIT undertakes much more ambitious, real-world "mission and team orientated" research than is usual in a more conventional university environment. An important role is to work with companies, share longer term industrial and technology road-maps and to engage in "over-the-horizon" research in selected areas demonstrating strong market potential that are aligned with its internationally leading expertise.

ECIT is located in the Northern Ireland Science Park and is its research flagship. ECIT demonstrates Queen’s University's commitment to developing research for economic benefit.

External contact

Lawrie Jones, EPSRC Press Officer

tel: 01793 444404


Matt Goode, Head of External Relations

tel: 01793 413299