UK launches new high-risk research funding agency

Article by Amanda Doyle

THE UK Government has launched a new scientific research agency to fund high-risk, high-reward research.

The Advanced Research & Invention Agency (ARIA) will be an independent research body led by prominent scientists who will identify and fund science and technology that could lead to ground-breaking discoveries. ARIA will have £800m (US$1.1bn) available in funding over four years which can be delivered flexibly and at speed. To avoid unnecessary bureaucracy, ARIA will try different funding models including programme grants, seed grants, and prize incentives. It will also have a high tolerance for failure.

ARIA will be modelled on the US Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA), which was later succeeded by DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency). ARPA was instrumental in funding transformational technologies such as the internet and GPS.

Legislation will be needed to create the new agency, and this will be introduced to Parliament, with the aim to have ARIA fully operational by next year.

Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said: “Today’s set of challenges – whether disease outbreaks or climate change – need bold, ambitious and innovative solutions. Led independently by our most exceptional scientists, this new agency will focus on identifying and funding the most cutting-edge research and technology at speed.”

“By stripping back unnecessary red tape and putting power in the hands of our innovators, the agency will be given the freedom to drive forward the technologies of tomorrow, as we continue to build back better through innovation.”

Daniel Rathbone, Assistant Director of CaSE (Campaign for Science and Engineering), said: “Lessons from similar agencies overseas show that, as well as speed and flexibility, ARIA will need longevity and continuity of funding in order to succeed – establishing the agency through legislation should help to ensure this. There must also be a clear purpose for the new agency, and support mechanisms to encourage pull-through and adoption of new discoveries and disruptive technologies by the public sector.”

Sir Jim McDonald, President of the Royal Academy of Engineering, said: “We are delighted to see the Government deliver on its commitment to a high-risk high-reward funding agency. I hope this ambitious new funding mechanism will help to unlock radical innovation and enable step changes in technology that provides value for our economy and society at large. Engineering is central to an ambitious innovation agency of this kind, forming the bridge between research and innovation to enable technological and commercial breakthroughs.”

Article by Amanda Doyle

Staff Reporter, The Chemical Engineer

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