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expert reaction to announcement of UK government plans for the Advanced Research and Invention Agency (ARIA)

It has been announced that the UK government will launch a new research agency, the Advanced Research & Invention Agency (ARIA), to support high-risk, high-reward science.


Sir Paul Nurse FRS, author of the Nurse Review of UK Research Councils, said:

“Additional funding for science is very good news, and I welcome the launch of ARIA, which demonstrates the Government’s commitment to supporting innovative research.  However, it would be better to describe its goal as the support of bold science that is tolerant of risk, rather than talking about high-risk science. Funding risky science with a high likelihood of failure cannot be the best strategy.

“I would also urge the Government to reconsider the decision to position ARIA separately from UKRI. UKRI is well capable of supporting this exciting new enterprise and having ARIA under the UKRI roof would ensure that the two organisations were closely connected.”


Sir Jeremy Farrar FMedSci FRS, Director, Wellcome, said:

“The launch of the Government’s high-risk, high reward funding agency is great news for UK research and demonstrates their bold ambitions to support exciting science. It’s important to have a wide range of approaches to funding, and accept that not everything we try will succeed when it comes to game-changing breakthroughs.

Note to editors: Wellcome launched Wellcome Leap last year to accelerate discovery and innovation for the benefit of human health. Leap will build bold, unconventional programmes and fund them at scale.


Prof Dame Anne Johnson PMedSci, President, Academy of Medical Sciences (AMS), said:

“I welcome this new addition to the UK government’s funding portfolio, which I hope will complement the system with novel mechanisms to support risky research that is capable of delivering significant reward. The COVID crisis has had extensive and tragic effects, but has undoubtedly challenged the research community to bring rapid and impactful innovation in medical research. I hope that this new agency will find ways to harness this ingenuity and apply it to a wide range of health challenges in future.”


Alistair Jarvis, CEO, Universities UK, said:

“UK universities are at the forefront of some of the world’s most important research developments, which transform people’s lives and help build a more prosperous society. The challenges we face today require bold and innovative thinking, so we welcome the government’s plan to fund high-risk, high-value research through ARIA as part of its wider commitment to increase investment in R&D activity.”


Tony McBride, Director of Policy and Public Affairs, Institute of Physics (IOP), said:

“The IOP welcomes the plans announced by Government today for the new Advanced Research and Invention Agency (ARIA).

“The establishment of ARIA will be an important step towards achieving the 2.4% R&D investment target and realising the associated benefits in terms of increased growth, productivity and prosperity. We welcome the freedom and autonomy that have been granted to ARIA, which will enable it to pursue truly disruptive, high-risk, high-reward research and maximise the impact of its funding.

“We believe that a clear mission will be essential to the successful operation of ARIA, whilst still remaining agile, flexible and free from bureaucracy. One of the elements underpinning DARPA’s success in the US is the bringing together of experts from academia, industry and government to solve clearly defined problems. As a nation, we must understand where the greatest technological opportunities lie and make strategic decisions about the areas and challenges we want to prioritise and lead the world in.

“It will be essential that investment in ARIA benefits researchers and organisations across the whole of the UK, and we recommend that the agency’s headquarters be based outside of the ‘golden triangle’, both to contribute to local economic growth through the creation of jobs, and to demonstrate the feasibility of other research and innovation organisations being based outside this area.”


Greg Clark, MP and Chair of the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee, said:

“I welcome the Government’s commitment to funding high-risk projects, which my Committee concluded would be key to the agency’s success.

“There remains much that is unclear about what ARIA is meant to be. It’s not clear if it is a new institution that will conduct its own research and attract global scientific talent, or if it is another funding agency for researchers in existing organisations.

“I am concerned that ARIA lacks a clear focus or purpose, and risks becoming rudderless without the direction our report called for. I now urge the Government to press ahead appointing a director who will establish a culture which will embolden and empower the brilliant scientists who should be ARIA’s employees.”


Prof Dame Ottoline Leyser, CEO of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), said:

“The creation of a new science and invention agency (ARIA) has tremendous potential to enhance the UK and global research and innovation system.

“The agency will have the freedom to experiment with pioneering new funding models, extending the reach of the current system to support people and ideas in new and different ways.

“Working closely together, UK Research and Innovation and ARIA will catalyse an even more diverse, dynamic and creative funding system that will ensure transformative ideas, whoever has them, can change people’s lives for the better.”


Dr Daniel Rathbone, Assistant Director of CaSE (Campaign for Science & Engineering), said:

“I welcome the government’s pledge to give significant autonomy to the new agency enabling scientists and researchers to use their expertise to invest in projects they believe have potential, something CaSE has previously called for. The government should make a significant effort to attract the best and most well-connected individuals to the agency.

“Lessons from similar agencies overseas shows 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.”


Dr Ruth McKernan, Chair of the BIA (BioIndustry Association) and Venture Partner at SV Health Investors, said:

“Taking risks to create new innovations is critical to solving some of the major challenges facing society. When it comes to inventing new medical technologies, therapeutics and diagnostics, the UK excels. ARIA should be well-connected to the existing research and innovation ecosystem, and act like a public sector venture fund where many ideas will fail and a minority will be transformative. It needs leaders who commission research and innovation flexibly across academia and business to deliver on a small number of challenges. What we have learned in the past year is that maintaining healthcare security should be a priority. Let us start there.”

Notes to editors: Ruth McKernan is the former CEO of Innovate UK.


Declared interests

The nature of this story means everyone quoted above could be perceived to have a stake in it. As such, our policy is not to ask for interests to be declared – instead, they are implicit in each person’s affiliation.

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