From the battlefield to frontline medicine – medical research in defence benefits us all


Published 15th September 23

By Mark Gostock, VP Commercialisation – Health and Wellbeing

When we look to medical research, often the images that comes to us might be someone hunched over a microscope in a white lab coat or some theatre full of jars from the 1800s that looks a bit gruesome. Whilst they both have their place, another avenue that many people don’t realise that medical research happens, is on the battlefield – or at least before we even get to the battlefield.

The question of why this research takes place is relatively obvious (I’d hope): to save lives, to advance medicine, to improve the lives of people not only at home but abroad too. Altogether a worthy cause and purpose to work towards when it comes to health research. But the question of how the research gets from start to finish is another obstacle to tackle, and one that many that don’t live this day in day out hear about that often at all.

Regular questions on health research include the length of time it takes to get from start to finish. Questions on the feasibility of study and funding of research is also a constant. Surely this type of research is funded fully and has a lot of money put towards it so that no roadblocks happen. The benefit is so big, so surely it must be something that governments see as a non-negotiable? Right?

Well, wrong, unfortunately. Not unlike most other kinds of research – there is no guarantee anything will actually work, even for the projects that have the most promise.

So why are we discussing this? Well, when surrounded by companies that take innovation to heart, there is no better time. The monetary benefits of these types of research are second to none. There is vast opportunity in investing in health and wellbeing research. These are technologies that do not just benefit a select group of users – they benefit humanity as a whole. There is no limit to the reach of these technologies; bodies are the same, and there are literally billions of them on the planet.

People, whether you like it or not, despite the apparent shift towards doing more with technology and less with people, remain at the core of any business. There will always be people in defence, and quite often people will be the ones who are at the forefront of all conflict. Human performance is something that can only be improved upon by research that focuses on humans. It’s research like this that remains incredibly important when it comes to health and wellbeing. Whether it’s physical research, whether it’s research into the mind – when we look at conflict, there are the two constants that we see; physical humans with mental drivers. We know that defence is one of the only areas where we can push humans to the physical limits of what a body can do physically and mentally, and so any research into what can make humans do more is an opportunity for exploration.

As time moves on, technology is going to be a far more prevalent part of conflict and defence. We’ve already seen the huge steps forward that have been taken when it comes to the integration of technology and people in the recent war in Ukraine. Despite the call for anti-tank weaponry, artillery pieces and rounds, and now jets and tanks – people remain firmly at the forefront both as targets and as prime resources, and those most impacted by the conflict. People need taking care of, and research where health is at its core will continue to be crucial for organisations that rely on human performance.

Yes, as a private company investing in government-backed research you will have to change how you work. In healthcare you will have to develop the patience and grit to work alongside an incredibly stringent regulatory ecosystem. You’ll have to develop the patience and the mindset to work on a scale of half-decades if not longer – this is not some SaaS that can be made, scaled, and pushed out in a few years on a bootstrapped skeleton team then exit to the tune of millions. This is research that can have positive impact in perpetuity, across the globe, no matter who you are or where you are from, or whether you have any contact at all with an organisation that uses Salesforce, or HubSpot, or whatever other tool may be a comparatively quick return.

We, in health and wellbeing research, are driving forward a human research area that impacts humans. It’s humans who are at the heart of everything we do, whether technical or not. It’s humans that are our bread and butter. We know the importance of humans – does the private investment ecosystem? I’d hope so, and I’d hope they get more involved in the UK research ecosystem sooner rather than later.