Life science research in the UK, including into drug discovery and mental health treatments, have been given a £17m boost by the UK government.

The UK chancellor, Philip Hammond, made the announcement today at a visit to the Francis Crick Institute, the largest biomedical research laboratory in Europe and one of the top research labs in the world.

New funding has been dedicated to three specific areas in the life sciences sector. In the field of drug discovery, £5m has been given for a cyro-electron microscope which can build 3D models of biological components. This will speed up the process of discovering new medications, which can take years.

In addition, £7m will be used to set up a new innovation hub laboratory. As well, £5m will be dedicated to expand the Confidence in Concept business catalyst scheme and boost treatment for mental health. So far, the scheme has produced 26 startups and 70 patents.

Hammond said:

“The UK has world-leading expertise in life sciences – an industry that employs hundreds of thousands of people – and it is through supporting growth in these cutting-edge industries that we will build a competitive economy that works for everyone.”

There are over 5,000 life sciences companies in the UK, with a combined turnover of £64bn. Health startups are flourishing in particular. Echo, a prescription app, announced it has raised £7m in a Series A funding round.

The startup is backing by players such as Rocket Internet, the German incubator, and a govtech firm, Public.io.

Echo is one of only a few apps promoted by the UK’s NHS. It connects patients with GPs to make the process of ordering and managing prescriptions easier. Over 50,000 people are already using Echo.

Co-founder and chief executive, Sai Lakshmi, worked at Apple because developing the startup with an ex-Lloyds Pharmacy employee. Talking about the funding, he said:

“As someone who uses inhalers to manage my asthma, Echo has simplified a confusing and fragmented monthly chore. With these funds we plan to invest in father R&D, build out our engineering team and scale the business, working with colleagues across the NHS and primary care.”

Echo is also one of three UK health apps taking part in pharmaceutical giant Pfizer’s startup accelerator. The startups are being mentored and guided by Pfizer to help them be available to help patients in the UK.

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