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COVID-19 Rapid Response Call

Please note this opportunity is now CLOSED.
View all OPEN opportunities


  • DHSC, through the NIHR, and UKRI are jointly launching two rapid-response research calls to tackle COVID-19:
    • Active intervention development, closing date of midday on 13th February
    • Diagnosing and understanding COVID-19, closing date of midday on 27th February
      Details of both calls are below
  • £20m will be made available across both calls
  • For UK-led academic, SME and wider industry research that will develop vaccines, therapeutics, diagnostics or address the epidemiology, spread, containment or underpinning knowledge of COVID-19

**Note that applicants to call 2 should use the revised application form (V2)**


The first wave of announcements were made on the 23rd March, with a second wave of funded projects to be announced in due course.


The 21st Century has already seen a number of epidemics including Ebola, MERS, Zika and Nipah. Epidemics are defined by the complex interactions between microbes, people, animals and ecosystems, and factors such as increased global mobility, population density and climate change are contributing to the rise of epidemics caused by emerging and re-emerging infectious diseases.

On December 31, 2019, the WHO Office in China was informed that cases of pneumonia of an unknown cause had been detected in Wuhan City, in the Hubei Province of China. The Chinese authorities identified this to be a previously unknown type of coronavirus (COVID-19) with subsequent phylogenetic analysis suggesting that the new virus is similar to the SARS coronavirus when compared to other coronaviruses known to infect humans. Initial cases had some link to a large seafood and animal market, suggesting animal-to-person spread, but there is now clear evidence for person-to-person spread. The outbreak was declared as a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC) on January 30, 2020.

The research response

Research to understand the disease, prevent, treat and control it will be critical for mitigating the severity of the COVID-19 outbreak. Rapid progress in addressing this epidemic will depend upon a coherent and integrated response from researchers, industry, the healthcare system and the public. Consequently, we are launching a strategic call encompassing two different elements i) active intervention development including vaccines and therapeutics, and ii) diagnosis and understanding of COVID-19. Up to £20m will be made available for this initiative through the primary government funders of UK medical research - the Department of Health and Social Care, through the National Institute for Health Research, and UK Research and Innovation. This amount is expected to fund several awards in both calls.

These calls will contribute to the global response by actively collaborating with and being informed by the WHO’s Global Coordinating Mechanism (GCM) for R&D in epidemics, the Global Infectious Disease Collaboration for Infectious Disease Preparedness (GloPID-R) and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI).  We will also consult with Wellcome and the European Commission on their calls.


Short term (up to 18 month) proposals are sought. All proposals will need to be able to show how progress within the period of award could make a significant contribution to the understanding, diagnosis, prevention and/or management of the COVID-19 outbreak. The research scopes of the two separate calls are:

  1. Active intervention development


  • Vaccines, with prioritisation of those with potential for rapid clinical development:
    • Novel candidates
    • Existing vaccines showing cross-reactivity to COVID-19
  • Therapeutics, with prioritisation of those with potential for rapid clinical development:
    • Re-purposing of existing therapeutics, e.g. proteases, helicases or entry inhibitors
    • Development of mAbs or other biologics
  1. Diagnosing and understanding COVID-19


  • Diagnostics, including
    • Development and performance studies of genetic and serological COVID-19 diagnostic tests 
  • Clinical, including
    • Clinical investigations aimed at understanding the natural history of disease
  • Epidemiological, including
    • Animal and environmental investigations to identify the zoonotic source of COVID-19
    • Epidemiologic and sero-epidemiologic investigations, such as those aimed to better understand transmission characteristics and severity of COVID-19, including those investigating viral shedding
    • Epidemiological or evolutionary models to better understand transmission, predict spread, and evaluate the potential impact of control measures
  • Anthropology investigations and wider social science, including
    • Social science that contributes to understanding and influencing behaviour (for the public, institutions and workplaces) to facilitate containment and minimise counter-productive behaviours
    • Collection of knowledge, perceptions, behaviours and exposures of people affected or at risk of COVID-19 infection
  • Underpinning - Development of novel technologies, platforms or systems to accelerate the R&D of diagnostics, vaccines and therapeutics and epidemiological studies. Including, research that supports/enables vaccine and diagnostic development e.g. reagents and standards, development of suitable neutralisation assays and animal challenge models.
  • Other research projects that would make a significant contribution to the understanding, diagnosis, prevention and/or management of the COVID-19 outbreak

Call priorities are informed by the international Research and Innovation Forum convened by WHO and GloPID-R on 11-12 February to develop an R&D Roadmap for COVID-19. More details are available on the WHO website here.


Academic Principal Investigators applying for this call must be hosted by a UK institution which is eligible for UKRI funding. Applications from Small and Medium Enterprises[1] (including start-up or ‘spin-out’ companies), government arms length bodies, and NHS organisations (including NHS Trusts and NHS Foundation Trusts), and equivalent UK authorities are also encouraged in alignment with NIHR funding policies.  Awards to UK-based, non-SME commercial entities will be also considered.  Specialist services or expertise may be brought into the team through consultancy or sub-contract arrangements, however, appropriate justification must be provided. Sub-contractors and collaborators (who are partners in the bid but not directly funded by it) may be based outside of the UK.

Researchers from overseas research organisations in affected countries providing important local engagement and context are welcomed as Co-Investigators on proposals. Other overseas researchers may be Co-Investigators, if they provide necessary expertise/access to resources not available in the UK.

Research institutes, including UKRI Units/Institutes, for which the Research Councils have established a long-term involvement as major funder are also eligible for this call.

Principal Investigators may only submit one application to this initiative as a Principal Investigator, but may be involved in more applications, if listed as a Co-Investigator.


Studies should preferably build on existing relationships, either with partners in affected countries and/or with relevant data/resource holders. Interdisciplinary proposals are welcomed, where appropriate.

Proposals must be timely, with rapid activation, to enable early and valuable outcomes to be established and/or to access time-dependent resources.

Data produced as a result of this funding would need to be shared in line with the Joint statement on sharing research data and findings relevant to the novel coronavirus (nCoV) outbreak.

Funding available

In total up to £20m will be made available for this initiative. The size of grants will vary according to the needs of each research project.

Requested costs for UK based researchers should be 80% of full economic costs (fEC) and, where relevant, for overseas researchers should be 100% of direct costs only. Funded projects in academia will be subject to standard UKRI T&Cs for fEC research grants. In line with NIHR funding policy this call will cover 100% costs for SME1 and NHS trusts (across the whole of the UK). NIHR funding for NHS Trusts and SMEs will be subject to a research contract which sets out a revenue sharing approach. An example contract for NHS trusts can be found here; an example contract for SMEs can be found here. Contractual terms for awards provided to UK-based, non-SME commercial entities will be agreed on a case-by-case basis between NIHR and the applicant.  There are no set rules on the split between collaborators, however, as the contracted organisation, the lead applicant will receive funding payments and would be required to distribute to co-applicants/contractors where applicable.

Applicants should provide costs of the proposal as set out in the application form. In Section 1.5 please provide the total request against each category, and provide a breakdown for 80% fEC and 100% costs in parentheses in the same field; the overall (top line) total request should be the sum of staff costs, travel, consumables and other directly incurred costs, and indirect, directly allocated and estates costs (the latter only applicable to fEC applications). A brief description of the resources required, including estimated costs, in the different contributing environments and confidence in access to these will need to be provided in Section 3.3. 


Proposals are anticipated to be short term studies of up to 18 months. All proposals will need to be able to show how progress within the period of award could make a valuable contribution to the understanding, diagnosis, prevention and/or management of the COVID-19 outbreak, with data and tools/reagents generated under this call to be made widely available.

How to Apply

Applicants must apply by completing the COVID-19 rapid response application form, using the tab key to move between cells in the form, and submitting this as a pdf by:

12 midday on 13th February 2020 if applying to the Active intervention development call


12 midday on the 27th February 2020 if applying to the Diagnosing and understanding COVID-19 call

**Note that applicants to call 2 should use the revised application form (V2)**

Applications must be submitted to nCoV@mrc.ukri.org.

All proposals must utilise the provided form and should be accompanied by:

  • The regulatory requirements annex that forms part of the application form.
  • An optional document of supporting figures, GANTT chart and/or data tables (no more than 1xA4 page)
  • A CV for the Principal Investigator and any Co-Investigators. Each CV to provide relevant key publications/outputs and grants and other relevant information indicating their suitability to lead/support the research as described in the application (no more than 1xA4 page per CV using Arial 11 point).

Please note that successful applicants will be required to return their award acceptance within five working days of receipt, together with an invoice, from their Administering Authority. Failure to comply with these requirements could result in forfeiture of the award.

Key Dates


Closing Date

Panel Meeting

Call 1: Active intervention development

12 midday, 13th February 2020

2nd March 2020
Call 2: Diagnosing and understanding COVID-19 12 midday, 27th February 2020 17th March 2020

Award Start Date

Given that this opportunity is for timely proposals, grants are expected to start within four weeks of award notification.

Evaluation process

Proposals will be reviewed directly by an Expert Panel. Proposals will not be sent for external peer review and applicants will not have an opportunity to respond to panel comments in instances where feedback is provided.

The panel for call 1 will meet on 2 March 2020, and for call 2 on 17 March 2020.

Key assessment criteria for the submissions will include:

  • The potential for the proposal to have an impact within the epidemiological span of the outbreak
  • Need for rapid activation
  • Access to required resources
  • Applicant expertise and experience
  • Partnership: including strength and clarity of collaborations and opportunities provided
  • Design and feasibility of project plan
  • Value for money
  • Alignment with WHO-defined priorities (diagnosis and understanding call)

The decisions of the Panel will not be open to appeal and the funders reserve the right to amend the application process.

Ethics and governance

The funders do not require ethics permissions and regulatory approvals to be in place when an application is submitted. If an application is successful, it is the responsibility of the host institution/company to ensure that the appropriate ethics approval(s) has been obtained and that no research requiring such approval is initiated before it has been granted.

Contacts and guidance

For general and scientific queries relating to the call, including queries relating to the administrative process of applying, please contact nCoV@mrc.ukri.org

[1] SME is defined as registered in the UK, have a staff headcount no greater than 250 and annual turnover no greater than €50 million (including start-up or spin-out companies). Companies must be registered on Companies House prior to being eligible for funding.