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Navigating the Innovation Pathway

Navigating the Innovation Pathway

01 September 2021

Roy Harris, Senior Adviser for Translational Research, RDS East Midlands

In translational research, innovative scientific discoveries travel along a virtual path
from the laboratory into clinical practice, leading to improved human health.

A Path Less Travelled

For many the change from what could be considered the relative safety of benchside research into the field of translational research  can often be seen as a daunting prospect. Your research has come up with an innovative idea that will benefit patients and the NHS but how do you get from the bench to bedside (patient) and follow the innovation pathway to success?

What is the innovation pathway? Put simply it is the development of a prototype into a commercially acceptable product that has been clinically evaluated and assessed for the healthcare market (or, put another way, from proof of principle to adoption and commercialisation).

Putting the Jigsaw together

Successful innovations often possess two key qualities: they are both usable and desirable. That is, they have a clear clinical need and are patient (NHS) centred. There is never a guarantee of success but there are paths you can take from day one to increase your chances of that success.  

  • Know yourself and your own capabilities: You can then select what partners you need to build the team that can deliver the right skill mix for success.
  • Know what your goal is: Have one clear research question and one key aim that state what you are trying to achieve. You can then build up objectives and/or sub aims to support these.
  • Know the clinical need: Your idea must be innovative and long lasting (not always an easy thing to predict) and not just another ‘me to’ product. Make sure you know where it will best help patients and clinicians. Proposals should support a future adoption plan for getting your technology into the NHS and healthcare market.
  • Know the marketplace, competitors, and end users (Stakeholders): Understand the risks that you may face in bringing your product to market. Make sure you can protect your innovation with suitable intellectual property rights.
  • Patient and public involvement is essential: Always seek PPI support throughout your project.
  • Make sure you offer good value for money: Make sure you can justify the project costs and funds requested.
  • Write your application for a broad reviewing audience: They will not all be scientists and may not be in your field of research.


A good starting point for funding is the NIHR invention for innovation (i4i) funding scheme which covers costs for most of the innovation pathway and can lead to follow on funding for larger clinical trials. As a translational funding scheme, i4i advances healthcare technologies, devices and interventions that have demonstrated proof-of-principle and have a clear pathway towards adoption for increased patient benefit. It will fund and encourages collaborative R&D projects in MedTech SMEs, universities and the NHS.

Next steps

Engage with your local RDS as early as possible. We have Innovation Champions with experience of innovation/i4i type funding schemes. The RDS teams of advisers have expertise and considerable experience of supporting competitive funding applications to ensure you get the right support for your application.

To support teams looking to apply for i4i funding we're running a suite of seminars on Translation Research /i4i funding, introduction on 22 September followed by a more in depth look in 3 Wednesday seminars from 6 October to 22 October. Don't forget to reserve a place!

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