Thu, May 27, 2021, 05:06 Barry McCall Sponsored by Science Foundation Ireland
Prof Mark Ferguson, director general of Science Foundation Ireland. Photograph: Jason Clarke Photography.
Since 2013, 28 cutting-edge research projects have benefitted from €40 million in funding from Science Foundation Ireland’s (SFI) Strategic Partnership Programme. The scheme aims to support research initiatives of scale with strong potential for delivering economic and societal impact to Ireland with projects addressing challenges in areas such as healthcare, climate change and financial services.
“It enables academic researchers to undertake cutting-edge scientific and engineering research in collaboration with a range of potential partners including companies, charities, philanthropic organisations, higher education institutes, and international funding agencies,” explains SFI director of industry programmes Dr Siobhán Roche.
This programme differs from other SFI collaborative research supports in a number of important ways, she adds. “When we set out to design the programme, we had flexibility in mind. Each award is custom designed. We engage with applicants to shape each project. We assess its potential impacts and benefits and those that are deemed of sufficiently high quality by our international reviewers receive funding. Also, our other programmes tend to have closing dates each year. That is not the case with the Strategic Partnership Programme, researchers or other applicants can come to us at any time with ideas for projects.”
Projects typically run for between 12 months and five years and receive 50 per cent funding from SFI, generally starting at €400,000 with no upper limit.
Companies of all sizes can benefit from the programme. “It can support multinationals and SMEs to conduct innovative research to improve their productivity and future competitiveness,” Roche points out. “It also supports the development of highly skilled and educated researchers in areas of importance to industry in Ireland.”
Fintech is an area where that support is particularly evident, with a number of partnerships involving companies such as Fexco, in partnership with Prof Philip O’Reilly, University College Cork, and others such as Bank of Ireland and Citibank who are collaborating with Prof John Cotter at University College Dublin. “These partnerships are helping to build financial research capacity within Ireland through co-funded collaborative research in addition to developing a highly skilled and educated workforce for the sector,” she notes.
Nearly half of the awards made to date are in the area of health, involving companies such as Abbvie, Pfizer, Alkermes, Takeda and Novartis, with charities and companies working together in some cases.
“The Blood Cancer Network Ireland is a great example of this,” says Roche. “This is a partnership between SFI and the Irish Cancer Society and a number of pharma companies and it has benefited Irish patients though the establishment of clinical trials in blood cancers. This provides Irish patients with access to novel treatments and an enhanced level of care.”
Another example is the Precision Oncology Ireland partnership, led by professors Walter Kolch and William Gallagher at UCD. The partnership brings together researchers from five universities together with 10 companies and six Irish cancer charities, including the Irish Cancer Society.
“They are using genomics approaches, and other biological information to develop new tests that will diagnose cancer patients based on personal molecular cancer signatures,” she explains. “Personalised approaches to the treatment of haemophilia are being explored by Prof James O’Donnell from RCSI in partnership with Takeda and the Irish Haemophilia Association. We are particularly keen to have patient and public involvement in shaping the research within funded partnerships.”
The latest and most topical partnership is the Covid 19 Research Hub led by professors Kingston Mills and Aideen Long of Trinity College Dublin. “This represents a €4.8 million co-investment between SFI, TCD, AIB and others,” says Roche. “It has established a centre of excellence in the immunology of Covid-19. This will provide key information on the immune response to Covid-19 infection, which will inform the design of more effective vaccines, as well as therapeutics that control inflammation.”
SFI is also co-funding a number of partnerships that aim to develop and deploy innovative technology approaches to reduce carbon emissions. Digital approaches to informing optimal land use are the focus of partnerships involving Origin Enterprises and Prof Greg O’Hare of UCD and the recently announced
Terrain AI partnership between SFI, Microsoft and Maynooth University led by Prof Rowan Feely. “Terrain AI will use a combination of sensor, satellite and data analytics approaches to develop decision support tools that can inform more sustainable land use practices that minimise carbon emissions, with significant potential to reduce the carbon footprint of Irish agriculture, for example,” she explains. “These examples highlight the impact that the Strategic Partnership Programme programme can deliver,” she adds. “It will be a key vehicle in supporting the ambitions of SFI’s Shaping our Future strategy.”
Potential applicants to the Strategic Partnership Programme should contact SFI at firstname.lastname@example.org.