UK funding agency launches digital health hubs: a new catalyst for change?

London: In 2021, the UK government’s life sciences set out an ambitious strategy and vision for investment, innovation, and collaborative practice1 to respond to the growing “silent pandemics” facing the UK, such as diabetes, obesity, and dementia. Underpinning that vision and aligned to recently launched workforce plans2 in England is the recognition that health systems must embrace new “ways of working,” which include the scaled adoption of digital technologies, AI, and a preventative approach to healthcare.

The UK-based Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) is the main funding body that supports innovative ideas for transformative technologies in health (among other sectors). To ensure that UK’s National Health Service is fit for purpose and meeting contemporary challenges, the EPSRC is aiding the development of technologies that include biopharmaceuticals, medical technology, genomics, diagnostics, and digital health approaches3. The EPSRC strategy is not limited to national priorities, aiming to ensure global impact tackling social, economic, and environmental challenges concurrently4.

That strategy led to the June 2023 EPSRC announcement that five large-scale multidisciplinary digital health hubs will be created, each with a dedicated focus area (Fig. 1). These will be primarily funded by the agency through a program centered on research and partnership for health technologies5. Each hub will be aimed at supporting partnerships across a wide research and health landscape, ensuring complementary expertise to co-deliver on objectives. The creation of each hub is to tackle three key health challenges described by the EPSRC: (i) improving population health and prevention, (ii) transforming prediction and early diagnosis, and (iii) discovering and accelerating the development of new interventions. Of note is the requirement for each hub to undertake public and patient involvement and engagement and partnership working to ensure health technology outcomes are designed to benefit end users and industry while also having maximum impact in the health sector.