The ‘Confidence in Concept’ awards, delivered by the Medical Research Council (MRC) and totalling £7.4m, will give 14 universities grants of between £360,000 and £750,000 to help them progress promising research ideas towards clinical testing.

The grants will fund about 150 pilot projects, allowing academic researchers to begin the process of turning a bright idea into a viable proposition. Universities receiving an award have control over allocating the funding internally, allowing them to respond rapidly to new opportunities and have the flexibility to pursue the most promising translational research opportunities.

The first funding awards were announced earlier this month, with the University of Cambridge receiving £600,000.

The Confidence in Concept awards are part of the Government’s publicly funded ‘Biomedical Catalyst,’ announced by Prime Minister David Cameron in December 2011. The Catalyst is a programme designed to deliver growth to the UK life sciences sector, delivered jointly by the MRC and the Technology Strategy Board.

Additionally, 18 SMEs have been awarded funding totalling nearly £2.5 million by the Technology Strategy Board to carry out feasibility studies. These awards will enable the companies to explore and evaluate the commercial potential of an early-stage scientific idea, to validate the scientific concepts, fully test the market opportunity and construct future development plans.

The funding which Cambridge has received will be used to advance research projects to a stage where they can be funded by external agencies or industry. This may involve obtaining additional data, engaging external experts or demonstrating the clinical validity of new techniques, all of which have been shown to increase the success rate for translational funding applications from University researchers.

The types of projects which could receive funding include the development of new treatments for liver disease, a new technique to screen potential new drugs for neurodegenerative disease, and the development of potential new treatments for multiple sclerosis.

“The UK’s world leading life sciences industry is changing fast and we need to stay ahead of the game,” said David Willetts, Minister for Universities and Science. “The Biomedical Catalyst will help bridge the so-called ‘valley of death’ that exists between when a bright new idea is developed in the laboratory and the point when a new drug or technology can be invested in by the market. This will support our most innovative life sciences SMEs and academics, drive growth and benefit patients.”

Successful applicants will be supported by Cambridge Enterprise, the University’s commercialisation group, which works with University researchers to move their ideas from the laboratory to real-world applications: in the 2010/11 financial year, CE supported 40 proof of concept and follow-on funding applications; 25 of those projects were awarded funding, totalling £4.1 million.

It is hoped that between 10 and 15 projects at the University will be supported over the coming months.