New £15m NHS cancer innovation call to open in April

NHS England and NHS improvement (NHSEI) will soon open applications to a £15 million call for new and existing cancer care innovations.

The NHS Cancer Programme is to officially open its second call for technologies and ideas that can be taken to the frontline, following the ‘success from the first call launched last year’.

Supported by SBRI Healthcare and Accelerated Access Collaborative, the funding competition opens to interested innovators on 5 April 2022, with the application deadline on 24 May 2022.

According to South East Health Technologies Alliance (SEHTA), the NHS is specifically seeking ‘innovative, creative, and future proof ideas across medical devices, in vitro diagnostics, digital health solutions, behaviour intervention, software, artificial intelligence, and new models of care’.

The goal of the competition is to ‘ensure a practical translation of leading research and innovation into cancer care by improving the early detection and diagnosis of cancer, supporting the ambitions in the NHS Long Term Plan (LTP)’ – and to ‘accelerate future innovation in the healthcare sector’.

Key ambitions of the Long Term Plan for cancer, highlighted in the challenge brief, include that:

  • by 2028, 55,000 more people each year will survive their cancer for five years or more; and
  • by 2028, 75 per cent of people with cancer will be diagnosed at an early stage (stage one or two).

Any contracts awarded will be for a maximum of 18 months and worth up to £4 million (NET), subject to justification.

The challenge is described in the briefing document as being a call for ‘innovations or new approaches that will increase the proportion of cancers that are diagnosed at stage one or two’, and also adds that the NHS Cancer Programme is ‘committed to tackling health inequalities’. It highlights that, if ‘all inequalities in early diagnosis’ for the 10 major tumour sites ‘relating to sex, age, and deprivation were removed’, there would be a 4.1 per cent ‘age point improvement in national early diagnosis rates (Barclay, M. E. et al, 2021)’.

The document also points out that there is ‘also some evidence to suggest cancers are diagnosed later in certain Black and Asian ethnic groups in breast, lung and colorectal cancers’, and recommends that challenge applicants ‘consider the impact of their innovation on health inequalities’.

Potential solutions can be ‘tumour specific or multi-cancer’, with the call stating that applications ‘from multicancer innovations which could have a bigger impact on early diagnosis rates are particularly welcome’.

Recommended considerations to address in proposals also include: the likely impact of the proposed innovation compared to the current patient pathway – as well as the potential impact on stage distribution and survival; the impact on cancer services and how the system will need to be changed for system-wide benefits; how the proposed innovation will be acceptable to patients and professionals, as well as how these groups have been involved in the design and development; to ensure that the innovation is affordable to the NHS and ‘wider system’, such as Integrated Care Systems; and for digital innovations to consult the NICE Digital Health Technology Framework, in addition to NHSX guidelines for Designing and building products and services.

Previous examples of innovations that have been funded include: a centralised platform to help diagnose skin cancers; whole-body MRI in patients with Li-Fraumeni syndrome; testing colorectal cancer patients and their families for Lynch syndrome; and medical device and software to capture high-definition endoscope images from suspected head and neck cancer patients.

An initial online briefing about the funding opportunity will take place on 24 February, ahead of a ‘virtual match-making event’ on 22 March, which will provide networking opportunities and match innovators with Cancer Alliances and Academic Health Science Networks.

Find out more about the funding opportunity online or read the full briefing document.