Innovation news in brief: Research funding; engineering; construction

Land Rover SUV crosses a bridge made of paper

Report recommends independent body for science funding

Sir Paul Nurse’s review of UK Research Councils has recommended UK science funding should be determined by a single independent agency.

Currently seven separate research councils share a total of £3.2bn of funding, reports the BBC. These independent councils are responsible for different scientific disciplines and allocate money within their specific research areas.

Sir Paul’s report is proposing greater co-ordination and suggests under the control of an independent body called Research UK (RUK).

The ‘super’ agency would liaise with a committee of ministers chaired by a senior cabinet figure.

Responding to the review, science minister Jo Johnson said: “Sir Paul’s recommendations reinforce the important steps the Research Councils are taking to work together in a more strategic and efficient way. The government will carefully consider the proposal to establish Research UK and we will respond in detail to the report in due course.”

Critics of have warned that centralising control under a ‘super’ research body could lead to ill-informed decisions, the BBC said, and fear the creation of a super research council that would lead to the funding of "pet projects" favoured by the chancellor and vocal ministers.

Supporters, however, believe scientific research led by a powerful civil servant with a ‘hotline’ to the Treasury would be a positive move.

Land Rover crosses paper bridge

Land Rover has sent one of its luxury vehicles across a unique bridge made of paper. The freestanding structure in Suzhou, China, spanned five metres and had no glue or bolts to hold it in place.

Land Rover commissioned the unique paper bridge, supplied by specialist British paper manufacturer James Cropper Plc, to mark 45 years of Range Rover innovation ahead of the Guangzhou Motor Show in China.

Artist and paper bridge designer, Steve Messam, said: “Paper structures capable of supporting people have been built before but nothing on this scale has ever been attempted.

“It’s pushing engineering boundaries, and the ease and composure with which the vehicle negotiated the arch was genuinely breathtaking.”

Leeds plan for new innovation centre

The University of Leeds has set out plans for a new innovation and enterprise centre at its main campus, reports Construction News

The project, which will be worth up to £27m, will deliver the new facility on a 9,500 to 10,000 sq m plot on the south-east corner of the main campus off Woodhouse Lane.

The university will look to appoint a main contractor in late 2016.

Phision Therapeutics wins start-up award

An early-stage life sciences venture developing novel small drug molecules has won University College Dublin’s (UCD) 2015 Start-Up Award.

Phision Therapeutics is developing proprietary therapeutic drugs to more effectively treat vision loss to prevent blindness associated with ageing or diabetes. Its novel small molecule drugs have mechanisms of action that curb the undesired growth of ‘leaky’ new blood vessels in the eye, which lead to vision loss and blindness.

The retinal disease age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is a leading cause of vision loss in Western societies. In the US the retinal therapeutic market is valued at $3.5 billion annually.

Founder Dr Breandán Kennedy said: “Looking to the future we are currently seeking €400,000 in seed funding to enable us to formulate and manufacture our novel small molecule drugs. Thereafter, following additional fund raising, we plan to proceed with pre-clinical and clinical studies to validate that our drugs offer a better treatment option, including a reduction in the number of eye injections, for patients experiencing vision loss associated with AMD.”

Innovative app tackles fuel poverty

A new app to tackle fuel poverty has been launched for social landlords and housebuilders by building science centre BRE and developer Cruden.

The new RetrofitLab App will allow housing associations, social landlords and housebuilders to calculate the benefits of refurbishing their existing properties, how much the work will cost, and how much can be saved in maintenance and running costs.

The app is expected to result in more energy efficient homes, reducing fuel poverty and carbon emissions and improving the health of tenants.

BRE Scotland director, Rufus Logan, said: “As a direct result of our research, we have been able to develop the BRE RetrofitLab App which is now available for free download. We believe this will be of particular interest to those operating within the housing sector as it allows energy efficiency options to be compared quickly and effectively, and just as importantly, it details the associated cost implications of each.”

Allan Callaghan, managing director of Cruden Building and Renewals, added: "Cruden has invested heavily in this project, and we are now working with a like-minded client with difficult to improve housing stock challenges who would work with us on a pilot project. We are in advanced discussions with a large housing association to take this forward."

The BRE RetrofitLab App is now available for free download on Apple iPads (search for RetrofitLab)