Artificial intelligence (AI) start-ups will be given the opportunity to receive up to £68,000 in funding as part of the 2018 Velocity Health programme.

Velocity Health is an accelerator programme spear-headed by global healthcare firm Merck Sharp & Dohme (MSD) and Wayra UK, the accelerator platform owned by Telefónica.

It was set up in 2015 and targets start-ups working to meet the challenges facing the NHS.

This year, MSD and Wayra UK are seeking firms using machine learning and AI to support disease and illness prevention.

Two companies will be offered a maximum of £68,000 each in funding and “acceleration services”.

They will meet with mentors, coaches and investors, who will offer entrepreneurial support throughout the 10-month programme. They will also have access to Warya UK’s office space in central London.

The deadline for applications is 4 January, 2018, with the finalists being announced on 12 January.

The future of healthcare delivery

Gary Stewart, director of Wayra UK, said: “Breakthroughs in artificial intelligence and machine learning are changing our lives in ways never previously thought possible, and it makes sense for us to seek brilliant entrepreneurs who can harness the power of data to improve the NHS and healthcare services globally, potentially transforming the lives of billions.”

Velocity Health was set up to invest in healthcare technology that can address the challenges outlined in the NHS Five Year Forward View, the organisation’s strategic vision for providing better joined-up care in the UK.

NHS England has acknowledged the potential of technology in bringing changes to healthcare delivery in the UK, particularly by tapping into areas like machine learning, genomics and diagnostics.

Previous programmes run by Velocity Health have focused on diabetes and cancer prevention.

It was recently announced that MSD would establish a life sciences research facility in London under the UK government’s Life Sciences Sector Deal.

Dr Junaid Bajwa, the company’s director of healthcare services, said Velocity Health was dedicated to start-ups “that truly complement the future of healthcare delivery.”

He added: “As a company, MSD is deeply committed to scientific discovery, working in partnership with the healthcare system and scaling innovation.

“The NHS has made digital excellence the cornerstone of its future model and we must embrace this if we are to have a healthcare system fit for the 21st Century.”