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Policy and funding

Policy and funding

UK creates ‘high-risk, high reward’ research funding agency

03 Feb 2023
Pound coins stacked
Cash converter: the Advanced Research and Invention Agency (ARIA) has been backed with an £800m investment (Courtesy: Shutterstock/Linda-Bestwick)

A new “high-risk, high-reward” science and technology funding body in the UK has been formally established following a commencement order in parliament. The Advanced Research and Invention Agency (ARIA), which has been backed with £800m, has been created with the goal of “identifying and funding revolutionary science and technology at speed from world-class scientists”.

ARIA will aim to remove bureaucracy by “minimizing hurdles across a typical project lifecycle” that can hamper grants given by other UK funding agencies. The UK’s Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) says ARIA will operate “with a unique level of freedom which puts trust in the decisions of experts in their field” to create “transformational research programmes with the potential to create new technological capabilities for the benefit of humanity”.

Alongside ARIA’s formal launch, BEIS also announced five new members to the agency’s board. The appointments include the Nobel-prize-winning organic chemist David MacMillan of Princeton University; asset management expert Stephen Cohen, who is a commissioner for both the UK Civil Service and the Gambling Commission; and Sarah Hunter, global director of public policy at X, the Google-founded “moonshot factory”.

They are joined by Kate Bingham, a managing partner at SV Health Investors and the former chair of the UK Vaccines Taskforce; and Antonia Jenkinson, the former chief financial officer of the UK Atomic Energy Authority, who will serve as ARIA’s chief financial and operations officer.

“This group brings together unique experience from across the science, technology and investment sectors, ensuring ARIA invests in the high-risk research that offers the best chance of high rewards, supporting ground-breaking discoveries that could transform people’s lives for the better,” BEIS noted in a statement.

The global race

Completing the board are the previously announced appointments of Patrick Vallance, the UK government’s chief scientific adviser; Ilan Gur, a materials scientist and founder of Activate; and Matt Clifford, chief executive office of the talent investment firm Entrepreneur First.

According to BEIS, securing the latter two as ARIA’s founding chief executive officer and chair, respectively, “demonstrates the UK’s ability to attract global scientific and entrepreneurial talent, as well as the continuing strength of our research base”.

“I could not imagine a better board of directors to oversee ARIA’s formation,” notes Gur. “Guided by their experience and judgement, ARIA will make bold bets that leverage the strengths of the UK research system to drive world-changing breakthroughs.”

An ARIA spokesperson told Physics World that the agency will soon begin appointing its founding cohort of programme directors. Once in place, these full-time ARIA staff will then design and distribute funding via a series of multi-year programmes.

“The UK has long been a leading light in scientific discovery, research and pioneering technology,” notes UK science minister George Freeman. “As the global race for science and technology leadership heats up, we are committed to going further to cement our position as a science superpower.”

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