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Experimental Medicine Challenge Grants

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

  • Status: Closed
  • Open date: 25 Jan 2013
  • Closing date: 25 Jul 2013 16:00 GMT+1
  • Type: Calls,

Studies of Disease Mechanisms in Humans

The “Challenge Grants” initiative supports ambitious, challenge-led programmes of research into disease pathophysiology in humans. These studies will produce major new mechanistic insights into human disease, with potential application to new therapeutic approaches and opportunities for “reverse translation” to more basic research.

In addition to the conventional Experimental Medicine Challenge Grants, applications for smaller “Pathfinder” awards are welcomed.

The scheme’s budget will be £20m/year, and it will run annually for 3 years. This is the second round of funding.

The deadline for outline applications is 25 July 2013.

Aims and Remit

Applications should aim to produce major improvements in the understanding of human disease mechanisms, and must be:

Challenge-led: Based around a substantial and clearly articulated gap in understanding of pathophysiology – for example, titles of current awards include:

Defining the disturbance in cortical glutamate and GABA function in psychosis, its origins and consequences

The role of placental infection in adverse pregnancy outcome.

Do gut hormones mediate the beneficial effects of Roux-en-Y bypass surgery?

Human-focused: The focus should be on understanding human disease through investigation in humans. Detailed phenotyping of subjects should form the core of proposals. While projects may include a small element of non-human work (especially if informing and informed by work in humans), the main body of the work should use human subjects.

Ambitious and/or innovative: Research programmes should address important medical questions. The anticipated funding range is £2-4m per award. A proportion of smaller awards will also be made for particularly innovative studies – see “Pathfinder Awards” below. Duration should be based on the programme needs, but 4-5 years would be normal.

Pathfinder Awards

In addition to the conventional Experimental Medicine Challenge Grants, applications for smaller “Pathfinder” awards are welcomed. These awards will support more focused but particularly innovative studies, or exploratory work intended to lead to a more substantial programme of research. These awards should request less than £1m.


Applications must include detailed experimental plans, comparable to requirements for a programme grant application. Lack of detail was a very common reason for rejection in the previous funding round.

Applications should be supported by relevant pilot data to provide confidence in the approaches proposed.

Studies should be methodologically and statistically rigorous in design, and we recommend that applications include appropriate support (e.g. a statistical co-applicant) for this aspect.

Collaborations between institutions, between scientific/clinical disciplines or with industry are encouraged but must add demonstrable value to the project, and include clear management plans. Non-collaborative applications are also accepted.

Novel approaches, imaging, integrative models and computational approaches are encouraged where appropriate.

Risk mitigation and management strategies should be described, including (1-2) milestones around key points and explaining how alternative approaches might be used in case of difficulties.

Lead investigators should demonstrate a strong track record of relevant research, commensurate with the ambitious nature of these awards. Less established researchers are encouraged to apply for smaller “Pathfinder” awards (<£1m).

Who can apply?

The normal MRC eligibility rules apply; please see the applicants’ handbook and the Research Councils UK website.

Research council units and institutes (including MRC units) can apply to this scheme.

Research proposals that are led by commercial entities are not eligible. Applications may, however, include collaborations with commercial parties under the MRC Industry Collaboration Agreement (MICA) framework.

Application process and deadlines

The Challenge Grants scheme has one funding round each year. There is a two-stage application process – an outline application followed by a full application (where invited).

The deadline for outline applications is 25 July 2013.

Outline applications should be submitted on the Challenge Grants Outline Form.

Successful outline applicants will be invited to attend a workshop before submitting a full application.

Full applications should be submitted to the relevant Research Board by the normal Board deadlines in January 2014.

The full application form will be provided to successful applicants following the outline stage decision.

Please bear in mind that all proposals have to be submitted via your research organisation’s administrative department. Please ensure sufficient time to complete their parts of the proposal before the MRC deadline dates. Standard MRC terms and conditions will apply to this scheme.

Your proposal must be submitted through the MRC Je-S system by 4pm on the relevant deadline date.

Assessment criteria

In addition to standard MRC funding criteria:

  • Question: Does the proposal address an important, clearly-articulated and tractable gap in understanding?
  • Challenge: Is the challenge sufficiently ambitious and demanding to warrant funding through this scheme rather than research grant support?
  • Strategy: Is an appropriate scientific strategy presented to address the challenge? Have the investigators chosen a suitable range of approaches to deliver new insights, and do the individual strands of work reinforce each other? Do the initial phases of the work proposed give confidence in the project?
  • Collaborations: Do any collaborations between disciplines, institutions or with industry add value to the project?
  • Infrastructure: Is the required clinical infrastructure in place? Do the applicants plan to make use of BRC/Us, CRFs, patient cohorts or other established infrastructure?


Collaborations between institutions and/or disciplines are encouraged where these add value to the research.

Applications including partnerships with charities or industry are encouraged where these add value to the project – for example, in terms of access to expertise, technologies, reagents or funding. The MRC does not have the capacity to broker these arrangements.

Applications involving collaboration with industry should adhere to the MRC Industry Collaboration Agreement guidance. The lead applicant must be the academic partner, and the MRC will meet the academic costs of the project only. MICA forms and Heads of Terms are not required at the outline application stage.

The terms of collaboration, particularly in relation to industry, should be determined early in the study development and relevant agreements must be in place by the outset of the project. Partnership arrangements should ensure transparency in the project design and in the analysis and publication of results (including if these are negative).

Consideration should also be given to issues such as: relative responsibilities, governance arrangements, regulatory approvals, indemnity, intellectual property rights, reporting, and access to data and samples.

Intellectual Property

Note that the generation of intellectual property is not a requirement for this scheme.

Intellectual property generated in the course of a project will be owned by the host institution, which will have the right to manage and exploit this intellectual property.

The costs of managing, protecting and exploiting the intellectual property are borne by the host institution and are not eligible costs for MRC support.

Ethics and governance

The MRC does not require ethics permissions and regulatory approvals to be in place when you submit an application.

However, given that research involving human subjects or requiring the use of human tissue/organs may raise various ethical and regulatory issues, applicants will be required to demonstrate that they have adequately considered these matters.

Early discussions with regulatory bodies are advised to ensure that all requirements can be met in a timely manner. Once an application is successful, it is the responsibility of the host institution to ensure that the appropriate ethics and regulatory approval has been obtained and that no research requiring such approval is initiated before it has been granted.

Please read the MRC terms and conditions for further details.


Proposals are funded on the basis of 80% of the full economic cost (except for “exceptional costs”, which are funded at 100% - see the applicants’ handbook). The MRC will meet the academic costs of the project only.

NHS* costs

Applicants should refer to the AcoRD guidance to ensure that research costs, NHS treatment costs and NHS support costs are correctly attributed. Full-stage applications involving NHS costs are required to include a completed “Additional Costs Proforma: NHS Support and Treatment costs”.

*This guidance is applicable to England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.


You are strongly encouraged to discuss your proposal with Dr Tom Foulkes before submission:


0207 395 2215