Investment in research pays off for GW4 Alliance with record return

January 26, 2022

GW4’s return on research investment is at its highest level to date, highlighting the value in community building and networking funding.

The GW4 Alliance’s return on investment in collaborative research communities has reached an all-time high.

GW4 now generates £20 in external research awards for every £1 it spends on networking its researchers – a significant increase from £13 in 2018, and up from its previous record high of £16 set in May 2021.

To date, the Alliance has invested £3.1 million in more than 100 collaborative research communities across Bath, Bristol, Cardiff and Exeter universities – such as climate change education, green recovery in cities, and new drugs to tackle antimicrobial resistance (AMR). This has resulted in a significant grant income of £62.8 million.

GW4 Alliance Director, Dr Joanna Jenkinson MBE, said the impressive uplift shows the importance in the provision of small-scale funding for new research community building and networking, and the innovative ideas these generate. This directly supports the UK Government’s levelling up agenda by increasing public research and development (R&D) outside the Greater South East, and supporting new research and innovation activity, she added.

The UK Government’s commitment to public R&D investment already generates good returns – around £7 for every £1 invested. GW4 investment in research offers particularly high returns at 20:1, demonstrating how it is well placed to drive research investment in the region, strengthening the regional economy.

The increase in ROI is attributable to the success of its Generator Award Funding scheme, which offers awards of up to £20K to support both existing communities and new communities looking to establish their networks and build new partnerships.

Collaborative research communities supported by this scheme are tackling major societal, global and industrial challenges; from net zero, climate change and sustainability to AMR. Early Career Research (ECR) communities are also particularly encouraged and supported, with the aim of investing in the talent pipeline for a highly-skilled future workforce.

Research with real-world impact

Investment in these research communities has attracted major external grant funding. The research community Developing a novel biological imaging technology for biomedical applications successfully secured a £1m grant from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) to investigate how fluorescence (the light given off by certain substances when it absorbs light) can be used to track the presence of novel psychoactive substances.

Lead PI Dr Christopher Pudney, from the University of Bath, said the EPSRC award will enable them to deliver the technology as “a point-of-care solution”. For instance, they are exploring its use in rapid drugs detection in homeless communities and prisons, which he explained could help improve clinical outcomes and support users to be safer.

“The GW4 grouping was instrumental in allowing us the space to leverage the best advances in the physical and biological sciences. Without the grouping we would not have developed our technology, which now is also expanding into a range of other applications,” Dr Pudney said.

The new GW4 Clinical Academic Training Programme for Health Professionals (GW4-CAT-HP), funded by a £7m Wellcome Trust grant, stemmed from the research community Building a clinical academic training community across South West England and South Wales. GW4-CAT-HP will fund five annual intakes of five fellows, starting in autumn 2022, and is open to health professional and veterinary graduates.

The GW4 Generator Award offers collaborative research communities across Bath, Bristol, Cardiff and Exeter universities up to £20K funding.

Lead Principal Investigator (PI) Professor John Iredale, Executive Chair of the Medical Research Council (MRC), Special Advisor to the Vice-Chancellor (Medical Research) at the University of Bristol and Director of the GW4-CAT-HP programme, said: “The existing research links, combined with the catalysis of pump priming funding, have cemented GW4 as a major academic training centre for clinical health professionals. The recent Wellcome award of £7m for a portfolio of clinical academic PhDs attests to this success and standing.”

Rhetoric and Practices of Green Recovery in Cities, a research community exploring the way that ‘future scenarios’ are used to construct and contest knowledge about climate change and transitions to net zero, recently received £7,100 from The British Academy.

Lead PI Dr David Shackleton, from Cardiff University, said: “Receiving a GW4 Generator Award allowed us to kickstart our ‘Green Recovery’ research project. We have now secured further funding from The British Academy which will allow us to take our project into its next phase by analysing the database we created, conducting a series of interviews with key partners, and running a workshop.”

Meanwhile, the research community Microfluidics And Modelling For Investigating Cellular Heterogeneity successfully applied for a £630,000 grant from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) to tackle AMR. The funding is being used to determine how two genetically identical cells can accumulate substantially different amount of drugs, with the aim of increasing the efficacy of antibiotic treatment.

Delivering a step change

Lead PI Dr Stefano Pagliara, from the University of Exeter, said: “GW4 funding has enabled me to initiate conversations from across Bath, Bristol, Cardiff and Exeter around the field of phenotypic heterogeneity. These initial steps have led to long-term collaborations including an interdisciplinary partnership with Professor Krasimira Tsaneva-Atanasova with whom I secured the grant from BBSRC to investigate antimicrobial resistance one cell at a time.”

By bringing together researchers with complementary expertise from across its four institutions, GW4 offers the access to specialist expertise and infrastructure to facilitate these types of research at scale, which are solving real-world problems. Its research communities have included more than 250 external partnerships as diverse as the National Trust, Met Office and Airbus, strengthening R&D collaboration between GW4 and business.

Dr Jenkinson MBE said she was delighted to see continued growth in GW4’s return on research investment.

“GW4 aims to build research communities of scale and capability that will deliver a step change in world-class research and innovation that could not be achieved by one of the institutions alone. I am thrilled that our efforts are not only helping research communities tackle some of society’s biggest challenges but are also helping them secure significant external research grants in the process,” she said.

For more information, visit our full list of research communities.