Merseyside SMEs lead on life science innovation thanks to iiCON support

A dedicated SME support programme managed by iiCON: infection innovation consortium, has successfully propelled some of Merseyside's most innovative new life science businesses – stimulating R&D and economic growth in the region.

iiCON is designed to support the discovery, development, and deployment of new products and treatments for infectious diseases. Led by Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, its consortium partners are Unilever, Liverpool University Hospitals Foundation Trust, University of Liverpool, Evotec, and Infex Therapeutics.

Since its launch two years ago, a key aspect of iiCON has been a European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) programme, which has supported a host of Merseyside SMEs to accelerate the development and commercialisation of infectious disease products by providing access to state-of-the-art equipment and world-leading expertise.

iiCON now hopes to attract additional participants to follow in the footsteps of the businesses that have already benefitted from the initiative – helping to further establish the Liverpool City Region as a life science incubator and magnet for international investment.

Designed to boost regional innovation, the programme has been instrumental in helping specialist Merseyside SMEs play a role in combating deadly infectious diseases such as COVID-19 and Malaria.

Thanks to this support, four new products have already gone to market, generating revenue for local businesses and improving the health and wellbeing of people around the world. These include COVID-19 diagnostic products, sewage sampling devices for the early detection of infectious diseases and sensor technology that will help eliminate vector-borne diseases such as Malaria.

To-date, the iiCON programme has seen 24 projects completed for regional companies, with another 28 underway. More than 50 companies have engaged with the programme, representing a range of sectors, including engineering, chemicals, diagnostics and manufacturing.

Approximately 50% of the companies engaging with the programme have introduced a new innovation as a result of the collaboration. The programme has also supported five newly established companies to evaluate their innovations.

Facilities and expertise available via the iiCON programme include AMR testing platforms combined with a microbiology suite in the Materials Innovation Factory at the University of Liverpool; a surface chemistry suite at the Open Innovation Hub for Anti-Microbial Surfaces at the University of Liverpool; and a Diagnostics and Engineering suite to enable diagnostic development and evaluation– supported with expertise from the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine.

Lisa Baldwin, iiCON Senior Business Development Manager, said: “We are immensely proud of this programme’s achievements and would urge other Merseyside SMEs working in med-tech and life-sciences to explore how we might be able to aid their success too.

“We want to support Merseyside companies by enabling them to innovate and bring products to market. Not only can we provide access to cutting-edge facilities and equipment, but we can also facilitate independent evaluation from a world-class research organisation, ultimately adding credibility for investors.

“So far, a significant amount of money has been invested in local businesses due to this scheme, with many grants being secured thanks to the data collected during our collaborations. What’s more, a large proportion of the projects we’re involved with go on to forge a long-term relationship with the universities, which will help them secure and maintain a place at the forefront of their fields.”

Professor Janet Hemingway, Founding Director of iiCON, added: “The Liverpool City Region has a unique heritage as a world-leader in infection control, where innovative approaches to global health challenges have been pioneered for over 100 years.

“Through this ERDF funded platform we’re building on that legacy, facilitating a dynamic, collaborative interface between Merseyside innovators and academia. By supporting pioneering infection innovation from companies of all sizes, we aim to help save lives across the world.”