SBRI: NHS England and NHS Improvement open call for innovation in cancer diagnosis

NHS England and NHS Improvement is delighted to announce a £15 million funding competition for innovation to go to the open market in the field of cancer. This competition invites applications for funding to implement solutions in late-stage development into front-line settings to improve early detection and diagnosis of cancer.

Opportunity Details


Registration Opens


Registration Closes



The project will be 100% funded up to the value of £4M (net) for a maximum of 18 months in the first instance.



Share this opportunity

The NHS Long Term Plan (LTP) sets out stretching ambitions and commitments to improve cancer care outcomes and services in England. The key ambitions are:

  • by 2028, 55 thousand more people each year will survive their cancer for five years or more; and
  • by 2028, 75% of people with cancer will be diagnosed at an early stage (stages one or two).

Diagnosing cancer early increases chances of survival as it means patients can receive treatment when there is a better chance of achieving a complete cure.

In 2019, just over 50% (54.5%) of staged cancers were diagnosed at stage one or two. Some tumour types are particularly challenged, for example, pancreatic, head and neck, oesophageal, stomach, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and ovarian cancers. (Click here to see supporting documentation and figures.)

The NHS Cancer Programme at NHS England and NHS Improvement (NHSEI) are looking for innovations or new approaches that will increase the proportion of cancers that are diagnosed at stage one or two. This includes innovations in the broadest possible sense, including behavioural interventions, software, or new models of care.

The NHS Cancer Programme are committed to tackling health inequalities. If all inequalities in early diagnosis for the ten major tumour sites relating to sex, age, and deprivation were removed, there would be a 4.1% age point improvement in national early diagnosis rates (Barclay, M. E. et al, 2021). There is also some evidence to suggest cancers are diagnosed later in certain Black and Asian ethnic groups in breast, lung and colorectal cancers. Applicants are therefore strongly encouraged to consider the impact of their innovation on health inequalities, and applications that will support to address these inequalities are particularly welcomed.

Potential solutions

The competition is open to all types of innovations, including but not limited to, medical devices, in vitro diagnostics, digital health solutions, behavioural interventions, software, artificial intelligence or new models of care. Innovations can be tumour specific or multi-cancer. Applications from multicancer innovations which could have a bigger impact on early diagnosis rates are particularly welcome.

Potential solutions to the challenge include strategies that support:

1. Identifying and testing asymptomatic patients who are most at risk. This includes:

  • Innovations that proactively case find and/or risk stratify populations for whom there is no current screening programme.
  • Innovations to more effectively target, improve uptake/adherence, or reduce unwarranted variation in screening.

2. Encouraging early symptomatic patients to self-assess and present to primary care or other appropriate services. This includes:

  • Innovations that proactively case find those with early signs and symptoms that put them at high risk.
  • Innovations to improve awareness/vigilance of the signs and symptoms of cancer (including vague symptoms), particularly for those cancers, or specific populations, where early presentation is still very low.
  • Innovations that encourage patients to self-present, including in specific populations that typically under refer.
  • Innovations that support ongoing engagement and completion of diagnostic pathways.

3. Assessment of risk in early symptomatic patients presenting to primary care. This includes:

  • Innovations that risk stratify patients or diagnose patients that present with less severe symptoms.
  • Innovations that reduce unwarranted variation in referrals.
  • Innovations that have the potential to deliver quick and easy ‘rule in/rule out’ tests that help prioritise and diagnose at-risk patients.

As part of the application form, applicants will be invited to consider the impact of their innovation on the capacity of the system.

Eligibility and expected stage of development of technologies

The call is open to products at late stage of development. Late-stage innovations and technologies should have proven efficacy and clinical effectiveness and be ready for real world testing and roll out. The aim of this programme is to accelerate these innovations into front-line clinical settings by shortening the gap between the evidence collated from traditional safety/efficacy clinical trials typically required for regulatory approvals (CE marking or equivalent), and the evidence required by commissioners to make purchasing decisions.

The call is open to any innovation with proven efficacy and clinical effectiveness, which meets the following requirements:

  • CE mark or equivalent regulatory approval obtained (if required for your innovation), and /or
  • in use in at least 1 Trust in standard routine care (non-research)

The competition is open to single organisations (contracts are executed with individual legal entities) based in the UK or EU from the private, public and third sectors, including companies (large corporates and small and medium enterprises), charities, universities and NHS Foundation Trusts, as long as a strong implementation and commercial strategy is provided. Organisations based outside the UK or EU with innovations in remit for this call can apply as subcontractors of a lead UK/EU based organisation or via a UK or EU subsidiary. However, due to the nature of the projects supported, all proposals are expected to have partnerships in place with at least an NHS organisation, if they are not already led by one, and engage with appropriate suppliers to cover the expertise required for the successful delivery of the project. Engagement with Cancer Alliances and/or Academic Health Science Networks (AHSNs) is particularly encouraged. Please note that only NHS clinical sites based in England are eligible.


The project will be 100% funded up to the value of £4M (net) for a maximum of 18 months in the first instance. Successful applicants will be selected by an open competition process and retain the intellectual property rights (IPR) generated from the project, with certain rights of use retained by the NHS. Where appropriate, in-kind contributions and palatable, equitable and affordable innovation prices to the NHS should be considered. Please ensure the proposed project deliverables could be reasonably achieved within the proposed contract duration, and all requested costs are justified.

Events and webinars

Click here for a briefing webinar recording and presentation.

In addition, a virtual match-making event will be hosted on the 24th of March at 2pm, to allow innovators to make connections with Cancer Alliances and AHSNs. Please register your interest before the 16th of March – click here to book a place.

If you would like help in finding a partner or preparing an application, please contact KTN’s Health team.


Connect with Innovate UK Business Connect

Join Innovate UK Business Connect's mailing list to receive updates on funding opportunities, events and to access Innovate UK Business Connect's deep expertise. Please check your email to confirm your subscription and select your area(s) of interest.