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Mental Health Data Pathfinder

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


UPDATE 21 Dec 2017 – please see the updated FAQ document for this call. 


MRC Mental Health Data Pathfinder awards are two-year pump-priming awards aimed at UK universities already engaged in mental health-related research. These are flexible institutional awards with a single application stage, to be used to create a foundation for the development of a UK Mental Health Research Platform, with further funding expected in the future. This is a £10m call under the National Productivity Investment Fund (NPIF).

Background and aims  

Mental health problems have a huge impact on the UK’s health, wealth and wellbeing. An estimated one in six of us are affected by mental illness each year in the UK and it costs the economy £70-100 billion annually as a consequence of lost productivity, time off work, social benefits and health care. Mental health and illness stem from a multidimensional interplay of biological, psychological, social and environmental factors which influence risk and resilience to illness and response to treatment. Harnessing the power of health informatics and data science through the creation of a new Mental Health Research Platform will enable researchers to better understand these complex interactions and deliver new insight to these challenges. The development of a coordinated informatics resource for mental health research was identified as a key priority within the 2017 MRC Strategy for Lifelong Mental Health.  

The UK has several rich and unique data assets, including well-phenotyped population and patient cohorts, NHS health records and routinely collected administrative data. By integrating biological, clinical, epidemiological, lifestyle-related, social, educational, environmental and other data, including digital data from wearable devices, apps and social media, a new data resource will have the potential to deliver insights into the aetiology of mental disorders, increase our understanding of the complex interactions between physical and mental health, inform early intervention and prevention strategies for mental illness, accelerate biomarker and target discovery and the development of new treatments and stratified medicine approaches for mental disorders.

The development of a Mental Health Research Platform will add value to major MRC investments in biomedical informatics research and build on these initiatives. It will require multidisciplinary research approaches spanning genomics, biological psychiatry, brain imaging, clinical research, new technologies and media, social and environmental sciences. It will require the development of capacity and new data science methods to ensure integration, discoverability, interoperability, and harmonisation of measures across datasets, for example. A Mental Health Research Platform will establish a coordinated and integrated resource for mental health research. Core components of the resource would include a data sharing portal to maximise the potential of population and disorder-specific cohort studies; integrated informatics environment to support data linkage using health and routinely-collected administrative records, cohort and clinical trials data; methods development and harmonisation of mental health-related measures.

MRC will work together with health, education and other public services, industry, and other funders, to link informatics on a large scale to better use and collect information about mental health. Mental health disorders include mood disorders, stress-related disorders, serious mental illness, behavioural and personality disorders, neurodevelopmental disorders, substance use disorders, self-harm and eating disorders.

Remit and scope

Mental Health Data Pathfinder awards can be used flexibly by the institution to fund preliminary-stage projects to support the development of a Mental Health Data Platform in the longer term. It is expected that successful application will support a range of projects aiming to address key challenges or demonstrate exemplar studies that might be expected to contribute to a future platform. Successful applications will demonstrate that institutional governance is in place to identify, select and monitor the most appropriate projects to be supported by the award; have appropriate and transparent oversight of funding; and have agile and flexible decision-making processes in place to make decisions rapidly while maintaining high standards.

It is further expected that Mental Health Data Pathfinder awardees will form collaborative networks focussed on specific themes in a way that enhances the UK’s research capability in mental health. 

Proposals should aim to address several of the following challenges:

  • advanced data discoverability methodologies for academic and industry-led research;
  • methodologies for data linkage and integration of biological, psychological, clinical, behavioural, lifestyle-related, social, educational or other datasets. This could include genetic data, imaging data, health records, routinely-collected administrative data
  • enabling interoperability between datasets, ethical access and data sharing, and support for data mining across the platform;
  • harmonisation of measurement of mental disorders and symptoms in cohorts and longitudinal studies and measurement of the outcomes of interventions;
  • enhancement of existing cohort and longitudinal studies, e.g. through annotation of mental health-related data, to accelerate progress towards making these data more accessible for research;
  • incorporating a broader range of physical and mental health outcome measures in population research and clinical studies, recognising the important link between physical and mental health;
  • Producing a feasible design for the next phase of platform development and its long-term sustainability;
  • Demonstrate how activities will utilise and link to existing informatics infrastructure and resources

Mental Health Data Pathfinder awards may not be used to support:

  • Continuation / extension of existing research grants
  • Administration costs
  • Staff between posts/funding (i.e. as “bridging” funds)
  • PhD studentships

Applicants are encouraged to explore how awards could be used to develop academic-industry interactions, in accordance with MRC standard terms and conditions (see MICA guidelines).  

Universities are encouraged to contact MRC to discuss plans in advance of submission if there are any uncertainties over remit of the content of the case.

Awards and eligibility 

Up to £10m will be made available for Mental Health Data Pathfinder awards. Institutions may apply for an award of up to £1.5m MRC contribution per research organisation for the duration of up to 24 months. Awards are required to start as soon as possible after the funding decision and no later than 31 March 2018. It is expected that 6-10 awards will be supported. 

The Principal Investigator must be from a UK Research Organisation with a proven track record of research excellence and leadership in mental health research, providing confidence in its ability to deliver at scale.

Eligible research organisations should be recognised research centres with a national profile in mental health research. Research Organisations should demonstrate their institutions’ strengths through a breadth and depth of principal investigators, grant funding, resources and infrastructure (cohorts and other data resources, informatics capabilities, etc) relevant to the development of a mental health research platform, and would normally be expected to be in receipt of more than £10m funding in mental health research grant portfolio from the UK Research Councils, National Institutes of Health Research and other major public funders.

Eligible Research Organisations may only submit one application to this scheme and hold one award, but individual researchers from any research organisation may be named co-applicants on more than one application. Research Organisations are encouraged to consider forming consortia where appropriate. Consortia applications should identify a dedicated lead Research Organisation and should demonstrate a cumulative grant portfolio of more than £10m. Applicants are encouraged to contact the office to discuss eligibility.

HEIs in receipt of funding through this call will have the flexibility to use the awards in the context of an approved investment plan. These institutional awards can be used flexibly by the institution to support a number of activities to address the challenges listed above. The awards are not being made under the FEC framework, therefore, the total amount requested will be the MRC’s full contribution.

How to apply and timings 

The Mental Health Data Pathfinder application forms can be downloaded below. Once completed, forms should be returned as a PDF no later than 4 pm on the 18 January 2018 to nmhb@headoffice.mrc.ac.uk.

The proposal should be submitted as a single PDF document using a typeface of 11pt Arial font, single spacing.

The case for support should be no more than 12 sides of A4, with margins of 1.5 cm on all page borders. Pages should be numbered and references provided where appropriate. The case to be submitted must be specific to mental health research; generic university information should not be included.

No annexes will be allowed, except for:

  • Schematic diagram: a single diagram to illustrate the local research landscape and plans for the Mental Health Data Pathfinder award, identifying the relevant research groups/resources and their location within the university (one side of A4)
  • A Gantt chart to illustrate the award plans
  • Two page CVs, and one page of key relevant publications, for principal and co-investigators, and named staff  

An additional cover letter of up to two sides of A4 should be provided to highlight University support and other relevant key information.

Any additional diagrams, tables, etc must be included within the body of the application. To maintain a level playing field, proposals which do not follow the specified format may be rejected without assessment.

Successful institutions will be expected to allocate awarded funds transparently and be able to explain the rationale behind decisions to MRC.

There is no direct relationship between HEIs in receipt of Mental Health Data Pathfinder awards and the HEIs to be selected to host any future Mental Health Data Platform.


An independent review panel with MRC Board representation will assess the proposals received in a one-stage review process. The standard MRC assessment criteria for Boards will be used by the panel to assess the applications.

Key dates 

Call launch: w/c 13 November 2017
Call deadline: 18 January 2018
Funding decision: February 2018
Award start date: no later than 31 March 2018


If you have any queries about this funding scheme, please contact:

Dr Rachael Panizzo (rachael.panizzo@headoffice.mrc.ac.uk)
Programme Manager, Mental Health and Addiction