NHS Cancer Programme – Innovation Open Call 3

Key Features

NHS England has launched a new round of its funding competition for innovation in the early detection and diagnosis of cancer.

Programme:     SBRI

Award:     Share of up to £4 million

Opens: 8th Apr 2024

Closes: 29th May 2024

! This scheme is now closed


The NHS Cancer Programme Innovation Open Call was developed by the NHS Cancer Programme in 2021 in order to support the NHS Long-Term Plan’s (LTP) ambition for improving cancer care outcomes and services in England. The key ambitions are:

• by 2028, 75% of people with cancer will be diagnosed at an early stage (stages one or two); and,
• by 2028, 55,000 more people each year will survive their cancer for five years or more.

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

Since 2021, 14 projects have been awarded funding via our calls. You can read more about these projects here.

A briefing webinar will be held on Tuesday 6 February 2024, 3pm-5pmSign up here.


The NHS Cancer Programme is looking for innovations or new approaches that will diagnose cancer earlier and increase the proportion of cancers that are diagnosed at stage one or two.

The NHS Cancer Programme is committed to tackling health inequalities. Individuals living in the least deprived areas have consistently had a higher rate of early cancer diagnosis than those living in the most deprived areas (Nuffield Trust, 2023). It has been calculated that if all inequalities in early diagnosis for the ten solid tumour sites relating to sex, age, and deprivation were removed, there would be a fourpercentage point improvement in national early diagnosis rates (Barclay, M. E. et al, 2021).

The NHS Cancer Programme is seeking innovations that will support efforts to address these health inequalities and all applicants are asked to consider the impact of their innovation on health inequalities.


This section provides information on the types of innovations that are eligible for this Open Call. Please refer to the challenge brief for more information on the specific types of projects that are eligible.

The Cancer Programme Innovation Open Call 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. The competition welcomes innovations in the broadest possible sense, as long as they are supported by a commercial strategy and there is a clear intention for market scale up or adoption.

The priority for this call is diagnosing cancer early at stages one or two, but the NHS Cancer Programme will also consider applications for innovations which reduce the proportion/absolute number of people diagnosed at stage four. Innovations can be tumour specific or multi-cancer. Applications that address specific tumour sites where early diagnosis rates are poorest, and applications from multi-cancer innovations which could have a bigger impact on early diagnosis rates, are particularly welcome.

Potential solutions
The NHS Cancer Programme is implementing an ambitious six-pillar early diagnosis strategy to deliver on the LTP stage ambition (see Figure 2 below). This strategy has been underpinned by work to estimate the potential impact of different interventions or acting at different points in the pathway on early diagnosis.

Applicants will be expected to articulate how their innovation contributes to the early diagnosis strategy.

Delivering programmes and activities which support earlier diagnosis requires diagnostic and other capacity within the system. Innovations which support risk stratification or triage, to identify and prioritise those who stand to gain from urgent suspected cancer referral and those who do not, thus supporting
diagnostic and pathway efficiency, are also included within the scope of this call.

The NHS Cancer Programme are looking for proposals that support:

Identifying and testing asymptomatic patients who are most at risk. This includes:
a. Innovations that proactively case find and/or risk stratify populations for whom there is no current NHS screening programme.
b. Innovations to more effectively target, improve uptake/adherence, or reduce unwarranted variation in NHS screening, including Targeted Lung Health Checks.

Encouraging early symptomatic patients to notice health changes and present to primary care or other appropriate services. This includes:
a. Innovations that proactively case find those with early signs and symptoms associated with risk of cancer.
b. Innovations to improve awareness/vigilance of the signs and symptoms of cancer (including vague or non-specific symptoms), particularly for those cancers, or specific populations, where early presentation is still very low.
c. Innovations that encourage patients to seek health advice, including in specific populations that typically under present.
d. Innovations that support ongoing engagement and completion of diagnostic pathways (can also apply to screening pathways).
e. Innovations that support timely and effective referrals from primary care or create new ways into the system through community care settings (i.e., community diagnostic centre).

Streamlining referral pathways through risk stratification of symptomatic patients. This includes:
a. Innovations that might accelerate or triage urgent suspected referrals.
b. Innovations that have the potential to deliver quick and easy ‘rule in/rule out’ tests that help prioritise and diagnose at-risk patients and support efficiencies within pathways.
c. Innovations that risk stratify patients or diagnose cancers in higher risk populations.
d. Innovations that reduce unwarranted variation in referrals, including for diagnostic tests, such as chest x-ray, and urgent suspected cancer referrals.
e. Innovations that streamline cancer pathways to result in earlier diagnosis and/or a reduction in health inequalities in stage of disease at diagnosis (i.e., non-symptom specific pathways, self-referral pathways, or multi-cancer innovations)

Stage of Development

The competition is open to any mature innovation with proven safety and efficacy that is ready for realworld testing and roll out and that meets the following requirements:

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

The aim of the call is to produce and evaluate evidence in a real-world setting and build on the value proposition required by providers, commissioners and regulators for successful adoption and spread.

Applicants will be required to submit evidence of safety and efficacy (e.g., sensitivity, specificity, positive and negative predictive values (PPV and NPV respectively)) as part of the application process. This could include peer reviewed publications, conference proceedings and/or reports. All evidence should be clearly referenced. Please also include any preliminary evidence of clinical effectiveness, where available.

Eligible organisations

The NHS Cancer Programme Innovation Open Call is open to single organisations from across the globe that have a demonstratable partnership with an NHS organisation. Additional engagement with Cancer Alliances and/or Health Innovation Networks is encouraged.

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 one 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.


The following innovations will be excluded from this round of the NHS Cancer Programme Innovation Open Call:

• Innovations that are in the ideation/creation phase and have not yet sought regulatory approval and do not have an evidence base. Types of regulatory approval include CE marking, DTAC (Digital Technology Assessment Criteria) and UKCA (UK Conformity Assessed). National guidance on regulatory approvals can be found here.
• Treatments, including small molecules therapeutics, drugs, vaccines and gene therapies.
• Workforce training solutions.
• Wellness or wellbeing digital applications.
• Innovations that do not comply with GDPR policies.
• Innovations that will exacerbate health inequalities (including digital exclusion or data inequalities) and inequity of access to care or innovations which have not appropriately mitigated against exacerbating health inequalities.

Funding Costs

Projects will be 100% funded up to the total value of £4M (excluding VAT) over a maximum of 24 months.

Interested in applying for this competition?

Book an appointment to speak to one of our advisors to discuss your eligibility to apply for this Grant Funding opportunity.