On topic: let there be light

July 19, 2019

CPI and the EPRISE project are establishing the North East as a leader in photonics innovation

Photonics – the generation, detection and manipulation of light – is a rapidly-growing high-tech industry currently worth more than £13 billion to the UK economy.

From high-speed telecommunications to diagnostic imaging, the applications of photonics technologies are already transforming society, and this impact will only increase as the demand for non-invasive, cost-effective, and personalised medical treatments continues to rise. Indeed, photonics has been selected by the European Commission as a key enabling technology underpinning innovation in a range of market sectors.

However, companies that benefit from harnessing photonics for their products or processes face several challenges in reaching commercialisation, which can hinder innovation.

Connecting with photonics experts can be difficult for smaller companies, and coupled with complex regulatory frameworks and delays in market adoption, many photonics innovations struggle to see the light of day.

To address these issues, and to help companies bring their innovative ideas to market sooner, CPI has been working as part of an EU-wide project called EPRISE: Empowering Photonics through Regional Innovation Strategies in Europe.

EPRISE is a consortium formed of nine European photonics clusters aiming to support small and medium- size photonics companies (SMEs) looking to enter either the medical technologies, pharmaceuticals, agriculture or food markets.

Support to overcome market entry barriers

SMEs developing photonics-based products or processes for the four target markets face highly-specific entry challenges, such as long development cycles, including crossing the infamous ‘Valley of Death.’ This is the phase where research needs to be turned into a working prototype and is often cited as a key roadblock to the transformation of new discoveries into useful and innovative products.

EPRISE was primarily set up to help SMEs to overcome their commercialisation challenges by providing advice from photonics and market experts and introducing them to development partners or potential end users across Europe.

SMEs can now take advantage of a number of freely available resources created by the project. These include two online databases and booklets about go-to-market challenges, as well as presentations and videos of expert talks from seven market- specific photonics roadshow events held around Europe.

The project’s companies database maps and lists photonics firms working in the four market sectors of interest and is a great resource to use to find collaboration partners or to identify potential competitors.

Meanwhile, the database of experts can be used to get specific advice from people around Europe who are very knowledgeable about the market sector, business-related challenges or photonics technology. Topics covered by expert speakers at the roadshow events include how to become investment ready, how to protect your intellectual property, how to develop an internationalisation strategy, and how to navigate the clinical trials process.

Finally, a go-to-market booklet, which brings together key advice, insights and examples from industry experts to overcome market-entry challenges, has been produced in hard copy and e-book and is available via the website.

Accelerating medtech development in the North East

A significant boost for the photonics industry in the North East is the opening of CPI’s National Healthcare Photonics Centre at NETPark, in Sedgefield, County Durham. This visionary £7.9 million investment by the North East Local Enterprise Partnership in innovation and future technology helps fulfil EPRISE’s mission to lower the barriers to market entry for SMEs and provide more local resources and support for photonics-based businesses.

Using light to diagnose and treat medical conditions and illnesses, healthcare photonics is a rapidly-growing area globally as demand for non-invasive, cost-effective and personalised treatments rise. Applications include non-contact cancer diagnostics, endoscopic imaging and a variety of laser-based treatments.

Currently, only about 2.5 per cent of the UK photonics industry is based in the North East, but through this investment, CPI can provide access to technologies and expertise that support the development of next-generation light-based healthcare products. This will help propel the local economy and provide high-value manufacturing jobs, by establishing a strong and innovative photonics cluster in the North East.

The site includes specialist laboratories for optics, electronics, life science, medical device testing and development work, as well as pilot manufacturing space that will allow companies to scale up products and accelerate their commercialisation in the medical technologies market.

By leveraging CPI’s significant expertise within this market, the facility will provide a space for the development of light-based innovations in diagnosing and treating disease. Applications of the technologies being developed at CPI range from instruments for controlled illumination in drug development to new biomedical imaging devices for rapid diagnostics.

Crucially, the facility will allow these new innovations to be manufactured at the quality and consistency required for entry into early and late-stage clinical trials. Another key aspect of the facility is the focus on health economics and regulatory affairs, which were identified by EPRISE as one of the biggest challenges facing companies trying to navigate the process from lab bench to market.

Lighting the way for SMEs in photonics

Further support for photonics companies in the region is available via the Spotlight project, which is a collaboration with Durham University and is funded by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF). Eligible County Durham-based SMEs are given support in developing their photonics-enabled products for the healthcare market, through early stage proof-of-concept research and access to senior experts and consultation services.

CPI is set to continue the fantastic work achieved by EPRISE and will further cement the North East as a leading light in the photonics industry.

The ongoing work will deliver high-value manufacturing jobs to the UK economy and help SMEs bring their new innovations to market.


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