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MRC Global Challenges Research Fund - Foundation Awards

Please note this opportunity is now CLOSED.
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The MRC has a strong history of supporting Global Health research, in partnership with other Research Councils and Low and Middle Income Countries (LMICs), and aligned with global initiatives. The launch of the Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) in 2016 has created new opportunities for the Research Councils and researchers to further grow and diversify our contribution.

The MRC, with support from AHRC, BBSRC, ESRC and NERC, now aims to catalyse further change to meet emerging global health challenges by making funding available for Foundation Awards in two areas, responding to aligned global strategies in:

Infections Foundation Awards: Global infections - Vision and strategy

NCDs Foundation Awards: Global Health Science - Beyond Infections 

These strategies complement the BBSRC led, and MRC supported, Foundation call in Global Agriculture and Food Systems.

‘Foundation Awards’ aim to be flexible, moderately sized, short to medium-term investments targeted at novel objectives requiring stimulus, they represent the first phase of a wider MRC and RCUK programme anticipated in Global Health Challenges.

We expect there will be important LMIC health research opportunities which could benefit from the involvement  of fields of research normally supported by other Research Councils, for example in social and cultural studies, economics, environmental  sciences, food and water, and technology areas. We welcome Foundation award proposals that explore new interdisciplinary opportunities.

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Global Challenges Research Fund

The Government Spending Review on 25 November 2015 announced “a new £1.5 billion Global Challenges Fund, to ensure UK science takes the lead in addressing the problems faced by developing countries, whilst developing our ability to deliver cutting-edge research”. It operates across a number of partners, including the Research Councils, National Academies, UK Space Agency and HEFCE. The RCUK GCRF represents the largest portion of this Fund and is a strategic fund spanning all seven Research Councils.

The Research Councils have each received directly allocated portions of the GCRF and  the MRC, AHRC, BBSRC, ESRC and NERC are drawing on their allocations to support this opportunity. In addition to the funds allocated to Councils, there is a large amount of funding that remains unallocated. The Research Councils and other partners are working towards a strategy for this and further details will be announced as soon as possible.   

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Funding Available

Five Research Councils are collectively allocating over £40m to GCRF Foundation Awards for health and food security research (AHRC, BBSRC, ESRC, MRC and NERC).  

From this, funding will be available in three areas, approximately:

  • £19m for Non-Communicable Disease (NCDs) foundation awards (led by MRC)
  • £9m for Infection foundation awards (led by MRC)
  • £15m for Global Agriculture and Food Systems (led by BBSRC).

Applications can address the challenges in health, infection and food security using any research approach or interdisciplinary approaches. The final Research Council contributions, and level of funding for these three areas, will depend on the quality and importance of proposals received; and the breadth of research approaches.

Funding is available for any activity with potential to rapidly advance novel Global Health discovery and translation research, which is not immediately ready for submission as a standard Project or Programme application. In many new research areas, foundation funding will need to build capability at the same time as building towards new knowledge.

Possible uses of Foundation Awards include but are not limited to the following, innovative approaches are encouraged:

  • Early phase discovery and translation research
  • Extending scope of existing research to wider global settings
  • Population studies, sample/data collection, data integration
  • New research tools and techniques
  • Development of collaborations, partnerships, teams
  • Creating pathways to impact in LMICs

Any LMIC health research that is ready for full scale project or programme funding should continue to be submitted to the MRC Boards and Panels, or the equivalents in other Research Councils as appropriate.

Foundation Awards are expected to vary in scale, as appropriate to the specific needs of each foundation case. The total funding requested is not normally expected to exceed £600k, note this is not a target and smaller requests are expected and welcomed.

Larger requests will exceptionally be considered if clearly justified, for example where extending the research scope requires large population studies or where action across multiple sites is needed in parallel. The Research Councils will look at opportunities for alignment, and may suggest cooperation between Research Organisations. Some applications may be handled separately from the main competition to allow iterative and coordinated development.

Requested costs for UK activities should be 80% of full economic costs and for overseas costs should be 100% of eligible costs (see Guidance for applicants 3.1.5 Overseas Costs).

Requests for modest capital equipment funding will be considered, equipment for LMICs will be prioritised.

Plans to enable early career researchers to apply their research to a global health context are particularly encouraged; however, funding is not available for PhD or masters studentships. Other opportunities for building the next generation of research leaders will follow.

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Foundation Awards are expected to be 24 months in duration, starting by 1 April 2017, but support for 18 – 36 months will be considered if justified. Applicants should focus on what can be achieved rapidly as further GCRF funding opportunities are likely to be available before foundation projects end. Critical foundation objectives should be achievable in year 1 of projects, as longer-term GCRF research funding will be made available through MRC and cross-Council initiatives, which are expected to receive applications from 2017 onwards.

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MRC standard eligibility criteria will apply (See Guidance for applicants 1. Who can apply). Applications need to be submitted by an eligible UK Research Organisation, with a UK Principal Investigator and all funding will be managed through that organisation.

Investigators may only participate in one outline proposal (across NCDs and Infections) as a Principal Investigator, but may be involved in another application, as a Co-Investigator. Researchers are not expected to be involved in more than two foundation award proposals.

Researchers from LMIC Higher Education Institutions and non-profit research institutions are welcomed as Co-Investigators on proposals.

MRC Units and Institutes can apply for foundation awards to support new areas of research; usual rules for funding grants to MRC Units and Institutes will apply (see guidance for applicants 3.2  costing of applications involving MRC units and institutes and 3.3 university units).

Depending on the level of demand, at the full proposal stage, Research Organisations  may be asked to coordinate their response and prioritise submissions within a prescribed maximum. Flexibility in the number of outline proposals submitted is allowable, to encompass a suitable range of foundation options, but applicants are advised to inform their Research Office or equivalent before submitting an outline.

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The scope of the scientific opportunity and challenge is set out in the MRC Global NCD and Infections strategies.

Improving health in LMICs will need a broad range of approaches, including wider social, economic, cultural and environmental contexts that affect health, so interdisciplinary proposals are particularly encouraged and these may span Research Council remits.

All applications must:

  • Address a research question of relevance to existing or future health needs of Low and / or Middle Income Countries
  • Demonstrate a clear vision for a substantial contribution to health research, and either (a) a credible route to developing the research/partnerships, or (b) a plan for testing the feasibility of  this vision and allowing go / no go decisions
  • Focus on novel internationally competitive research/translation
  • Strengthen LMIC / UK partnerships during the course of the project 

Applications are also expected where possible to:

  • Capitalise on existing LMIC partnership(s)
  • Develop capabilities that are sustainable, and where possible have wider value outside the immediate research interests of the partnership.  (This can include value to other Research Council interests beyond health).
  • Help establish interdisciplinary teams to address the research question

Capacity building, e.g. training, placements, two-way exchanges (within appropriate immigration frameworks), may be an integral part of foundation projects. However, proposals with  capacity building as the main objective are not suitable for foundation awards. Other opportunities for building the next generation of research leaders will follow. Requests including support for capacity building must outline how they would complement, but not duplicate, existing investments in capacity building, such as via Doctoral Training Partnerships or Newton Fund investments. Funding for PhD or masters studentships is not available.

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Official Development Assistance

All research funded through the GCRF Foundation Awards call will be part of the UK’s Official Development Assistance (ODA).  Applications must be primarily relevant to near-term or long-term benefits to the health or prosperity of Low or Middle Income Countries. Applications that do not meet this criterion will be rejected.  

The OECD Development Assistance Committee’s list of Official Development Assistance recipients (available at http://www.oecd.org/dac/stats/daclist.htm) defines the sets of countries whose health needs (individual or collective) are relevant.  The research strategies and the approach to partnership and capability development will vary significantly, depending on whether the research is oriented towards / conducted with Middle-income or Low income Countries.  

Applicants need to concentrate on ensuring that their proposal promotes the economic development and welfare of developing countries as its main objective.

Further guidance on ODA definitions and interpretation is available in the OECD factsheet ‘Is it ODA?’ 

Regulation and ethical issues will vary across different countries and should be considered from the outset. The MRC expects grant holders to work within applicable international and local guidelines, and to obtain ethical review in the local country and in the UK.

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Outline Proposal

Applicants wishing to make a submission to the NCDs and Infections calls will be required to provide an Outline Proposal to a deadline of 16.00 (GMT+1) on 22 June 2016.

Outline Proposals will be checked and analysed by MRC Head Office, with the support of other Research Councils and will then be assessed by expert panels. Membership will be drawn from relevant Research Council Boards, Oversight Groups and Panels, complemented with additional expertise, including representatives from LMICs, other funders and DfID. There will be two panel meetings; one to review NCD proposals and one to review proposals in the Infections remit.

Given the broad and responsive nature of this call and the new approach that it represents, the aim of the Outline Proposal stage is to provide constructive generic, strategic and practical feedback, to aid applicants build a compelling case for foundation funding, ensure alignment with ODA expectations, and to facilitate coordination to achieve a strong portfolio of awards. No assessment of science quality or feedback on this aspect will be provided at the outline stage. If proposals do not fit with the remit of the scheme, including ODA and project start requirements, then Outline applicants will not be invited to proceed to submit a full proposal. In such cases the decision will be final and will not be open to appeal.

The Outline should be completed using the GCRF Foundation Award Form. Submissions not made using the form will be excluded.

Keywords must be provided and should include the disease areas or infections of focus, the LMIC countries or regions that would benefit and the key research disciplines involved.

The outline form allows a maximum of ten co-investigators and five developing partnerships to be listed. In most cases the numbers of investigators and planned partners is expected to be lower than this, if in exceptional cases numbers are higher only list the leads from each organisation or country. Additional co-investigators and partners can be included at the full proposal stage.

Outline Proposals must be submitted as a word document to gcrf.foundation@headoffice.mrc.ac.uk by 16.00 (GMT+1) on 22 June 2016.

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Full Proposal (Je-S Proposal)

Applicants for foundation awards invited to proceed to the full proposal stage should draw on any feedback and generic guidance provided to them on preparing applications, which will include the assessment criteria. Note that limits may apply to proposal numbers per organisation (see Eligibility).

UK Research Organisations intending to transfer funding to overseas organisations will be asked to provide a statement of their financial due diligence and monitoring processes in the full proposal.

Proposals for foundation awards must be submitted via Je-S by 16.00 (GMT+1) on 22 September 2016.

Proposals will be assessed by one or more expert panels that will meet in November 2016. Membership will be drawn from relevant Research Council Boards, Oversight Groups and Panels, complemented where appropriate with additional expertise and representatives from other funders and DfID. Proposals will be reviewed by the panel members and applicants will not have an opportunity to respond to their comments.

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Grant start date

All proposals must indicate a start date no later than 1 April 2017 and will be required to start by this date. A convincing timeline must be presented and will form part of the assessment. As no delays to project start dates will be allowable, applicants should be realistic about start up times and only participate in the call if the intended activities can begin on the required schedule.

Grants will be managed according to RCUK and MRC standard terms and conditions. Additional reporting requirements may be required and will be confirmed later.

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Key dates

Outline Proposal deadline

22 June 2016

Outline Proposal feedback

July 2016

Full Proposal call open

July 2016

Full Proposal deadline

22 September 2016

Funding decisions

December 2016

Latest possible project start

1 April 2017

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For more information contact: gcrf.foundation@headoffice.mrc.ac.uk

Enquiries about GCRF Foundation Awards will be registered and FAQs published and updated weekly, as such you may not receive an individual response. Please read the FAQs before contacting us. Based on feedback, MRC will consider if an engagement event would be beneficial to support applicants in early September 2016. Applicants invited to proceed to the proposal stage will be notified of any such opportunities.

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