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AHRC cluster will make industry-university links

The Arts and Humanities Research Council has announced funding of £80 million for projects that promote collaborations between universities and the creative industries.

The AHRC said that the Creative Industries Clusters Programme would support a policy and evidence centre for the creative industries and eight academic-industry research partnerships.

The programme, announced by the council on 1 August, will be framed around a set of needs identified jointly by industry and the AHRC and is expected to run between October 2018 and March 2023.

Each partnership will be led by a higher education institute, and can be located anywhere in the UK. Some £6m to £9m will be available for each one. This includes an AHRC contribution of £4-6m to cover full economic costs for 54 months and a minimum of one-third more in matched funding provided by the institution and industry.

The AHRC says the programme will enable businesses, from micro-businesses to larger enterprises, to create partnerships with academic researchers to develop new products, services and experiences.  

Funding will focus on early stage and “risky” research for which funds are usually difficult to obtain. However, proposals must include a commercial angle with the potential to produce a product. 

“We are not able to fund purely theoretical research, critical studies or historical analysis except where a strong case can be made that it is a central component of such innovation, the council explained.

Partnerships should address one or more of six areas outlined by the AHRC.

The first topic is new business models and intellectual property. Some of the questions that the initiative aims to answer are: How do legal and regulatory frameworks need to change to enable innovation in the creative sector while retaining audience and consumer trust, and how can such innovation be embedded in practical products and services? 

The second topic is collaboration. For example, partnerships could look at how higher education institutes, industry and policymakers collectively improve collaboration between companies, creative clusters and supply chains to generate value through, for example, better access to global markets. 

The third international trade topic will examine the issues surrounding efforts to retain and expand the market for the UK's creative output. Goods and services generated by the creative industries contribute a total of £35.9 billion to the UK economy but the AHRC warns that there is a 'sense of fragility' over access to overseas markets with the UK's imminent withdrawal from the European Union.

The fourth investment topic looks at how R&D can access more sources of public and private finance. The fifth area, equality and diversity, aims to overcome the notable disparities in gender; race and socioeconomic background within these industries. 

The final subject to be investigated through the programme is skill shortages. The AHRC said that the introduction of new technology in the creative sector has created a shortage in essential skills. Under this theme, researchers could explore how partnerships between industry and universities could fuse the creative; digital; science, technology, engineering and mathematics and entrepreneurial skills to better address research and industry. 

Universities or recognised independent research organisations (IROs) can also bid to host a Policy and Evidence Centre for the Creative Industries Sector. The AHRC will contribute £6m and any business or organisation can contribute. A minimum of 25 per cent matched funding is required. The centre is expected to run from July 2018 to March 2023. 

The centre will provide independent analysis on the creative industries for businesses and policymakers, as well as identifying research gaps and coordinating data and analysis on challenges in the sector. 

Funding for the centre can be used to cover costs of equipment; infrastructure; facilities and the development of data.

Further details about how to apply for the grants will be available in September. 


UK > Charities & Societies


Charity lays down challenge to reduce lab animal use

Biomedical research charity NC3Rs has launched a competition for academics and industry to create technologies that reduce, refine or replace the use of animals in fundamental research and in product development.

The Crack It grants call, announced on 1 August, is being sponsored by three industrial partners: oil company Shell; agribusiness Syngenta; and chemicals and food products manufacturer Unilever. It will focus on three areas, toxicity studies, improved in vitro methods and respiratory science.

The first of the challenges, Dartpaths, aims to map developmental and reproductive toxicity genes and pathways for cross-species comparison of toxic compound effects. Under phase one, researchers can apply for up to £100,000 and for phase two, £1 million is available. Shell and Syngenta are supporting this call. 

The second, dosing for controlled exposure, will look at different dosing strategies for assessing in vitro dose responses that can be correlated with results from in vivo studies. This call, funded by Shell and Unilever, also offers £100,000 for phase one and £1m for phase two studies.

The third challenge, RespiraTox, aims to develop laboratory tools that can reliably predict the irritant potential of chemicals in the human respiratory system. This project, supported by Shell, offers maximum funding of £100,000 for up to one year.

A networking event providing where information on the call is being held on 7 September.

More details can be found on NC3Rs website. 


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UK > Innovation


Manchester aims to build confidence in dam projects

The University of Manchester is to lead an international consortium to investigate the economic, social and environmental impact of dams.

Research Councils UK is to fund the Dams 2.0 project with £7.5 million from the Global Challenges Research Fund, the university announced on 2 August. 

The project aims to prevent dam projects from having a negative impact on poor people, increasing political instability and environmental degradation.

A spokesman for the University of Manchester told Research Fortnight: “Large dams are often controversial, and with 3,700 of them planned or already under construction around the world, dam conflicts are likely to grow. Most new dams are in low and middle-income countries.

“Dams 2.0 is a project that will improve the thinking around the construction of dams by considering them as disturbances of an interacting system of water, energy, food and the environment. A dam’s effect on all of these—including the way it changes how they interact with each other—needs to be taken into account.”

The project will be led by the university’s Global Development Institute, as well as its Mechanical, Aerospace and Civil Engineering School. It will also work alongside UK research bodies such as the University of Cambridge, and institutes in east Africa, Ghana, Myanmar, India and Jordan.

Other UK institutions that will take part are University College London, the International Institute for Environment and Development and the International Water Management Institute. The universities of Surrey, Newcastle and Southampton will also collaborate on the project.  

Overseas partners include the University of Ghana; Yangon Technological University in Myanmar; Jordan University of Science and Technology; and the Institute of Economic Growth in Delhi, India.  

International organisations that will work on the project include the World Bank; the International Hydropower Association; the International Finance Corporation; and Climate Bond Initiative.  


UK > Politics


Two-way links with EU leave post-Brexit industry vulnerable

The UK’s oil and gas, manufacturing and financial services industries are the most heavily dependent on European export markets and will have most to lose when Britain exits the European Union, according to a parliamentary briefing paper.

The report, Importance of Trade with the EU for UK Industries, was published by the House of Commons Library on 1 August. The analysis used the Office for National Statistics’ UK input-output analytical tables for 2013, which were published on 9 March.

Manufacturing, health and social care and the hospitality industries were also found to be vulnerable due to their heavy reliance on staff, services and materials that are imported into the UK from Europe and they may face increased costs following Brexit.

The report shows that UK manufacturing in particular is highly integrated with the rest of the EU, buying many materials, components and equipment from EU firms. Imports account for an estimated 20 per cent of non-staff production costs, while selling a large proportion of its finished products back to EU firms and consumers accounts for 21 per cent of revenues.

The health and care sector on the other hand showed negligible exports but had the second highest reliance on EU imports. Most of the industry’s high reliance on imports was attributable to health, not care, where the import of pharmaceutical products such as medicines and electronic equipment contributed to the imports needed, which added up to 23 per cent of non-staff production costs in 2013.


UK > Research Councils


Bioinformatics institute calls for full bids for substantive sites

The Medical Research Council’s new bioinformatics institute Health Data Research UK is calling on those institutions that expressed an interest in being one of its substantive sites earlier in the year to submit full proposals.

Under the call, between five and seven hubs will be created to overcome research challenges identified by Andrew Morris, HDR UK’s director. The hubs will be funded for more than 10 years, with around £25 million from HDR UK over the first five-years of the project.

More than one research organisation is expected to contribute to each research hub, and the hubs can include one or more research location.

HDR UK was set up as a £50-million partnership between the MRC, National Institute of Health Research, Chief Scientist Office (Scotland), Health and Care Research Wales, the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, the Economic and Social Research Council, the British Heart Foundation and the Wellcome Trust.

Its research programmes aim to build capacity in informatics to make better use large amounts of patient and research data sets, to improve treatments, identify health risks and develop a better understanding on the causes of disease.

Morris said: “My vision is to work across the UK to exploit the extraordinary capability of informatics and computational medicine to create a new type of research institute that leads the international agenda in health data science. By working in partnership with academia, NHS, government, industry and the public, the Institute will be a scientific driving force for new knowledge through data, bringing benefits to medicine and society.”


Europe > Politics


Cage closes on fight to host medicines agency

The deadline for bidding to host the European Medicines Agency when it leaves London has now passed, leaving 19 cities competing against each other.

After months of squaring up to each other, and following a 31 July application deadline, national governments have unsheathed their offers to host the EU’s medical treatment regulator. The EMA has been based in London since its inception in 1995, but has become one of the most coveted prizes of Brexit.

The details of the bids were published by the European Council on 1 August. Most of the 19 candidate countries have set up dedicated websites for their bids, and some have produced promotional videos.

The countries all professed to meet the assessment criteria for relocation put forward by the European Commission. These criteria include business continuity and accessibility, good schools, healthcare and a labour market for the EMA staff’s families. Ensuring that agencies are fairly spread across the EU will also factor into the decision.

Many of the bids name state-of-the-art buildings as being ready to serve as the EMA’s headquarters. The Netherlands proposed the Vivaldi building in Amsterdam’s business district, advertising a range of affordable housing within a commute of 15 to 45 minutes. Italy offered the Pirelli building in Milan free of charge for 2019 and at a discounted rate until 2022. The Spanish bid put forward Torre Glories in Barcelona, 25 minutes from the airport.

The French bid promised to create a tailor-made headquarters in Lille, while the Irish bid suggested three potential sites in Dublin and pledged to put €15 million towards relocation costs in 2019.

The candidates also emphasised the value of their lifestyle and culture. The Netherlands claimed to offer a higher quality of life than other candidate countries including Ireland, Spain and France. The Swedish bid argued that quality of life in Stockholm is “second to none”, highlighting that the city is home to Spotify, Skype and the clothes retailer H&M. Italy highlighted Milan’s “17,000 restaurants, 150 art galleries and 37 theatres”, while Ireland said it was ranked first in the world for tolerance.

Sweden prioritised business continuity in its bid, and promised that its national medicines regulator would shoulder up to 10 per cent of the UK’s workload. The UK drugs agency carries out 30 to 40 per cent of the EMA’s work, and the EMA has called on EU countries to help take on the added regulatory burden after Brexit.

A similar bidding process took place in 1995 when the EMA’s original location was decided. At that time, the content of the bids was “totally random” and all but ignored, the EMA’s founding director Fernand Sauer told Research Europe in November last year. The winning host city, London, “never offered anything”, Sauer said, and the decision was the result of political horsetrading.

The Commission said it would respond to the offers by 30 September. National ministers will have a political discussion based on the Commission’s assessment in October, and a final decision will be taken in November.

On 1 August the EMA announced that it would scale back activities to free up staff to deal with the relocation. As part of its business continuity plan, the EMA said it would postpone the development of a medicines web portal and a transparency roadmap.


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