We are creating a unified UKRI website that brings together the existing research council, Innovate UK and Research England websites.
If you would like to be involved in its development let us know.

Site search
Back to listing

MRC/ESRC/BBSRC-Versus Arthritis Advanced Pain Discovery Platform – Expression of Interest for Multidisciplinary Consortia for Data Generation

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

May 2020

We encourage applicants to check back regularly as we intend to provide ongoing updates here. Alternatively, if you would like to be contacted directly regarding the update of these call details, please email spfpain@mrc.ukri.org

The Medical Research Council, Versus Arthritis and other Partners announce the Director appointment for the Advanced Pain Discovery Platform (APDP). Please follow the link to the MRC news item.

APDP’s partner, Versus Arthritis, recently released a blog which focusses on the APDP programme and its Director, Professor David Walsh. Please visit the Versus Arthritis website to read the interview.

The Medical Research Council (MRC)Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and Versus Arthritis are pleased to announce a £14m call for large and ambitious multidisciplinary consortia. This will build the foundation of a national-scale programme supporting discovery and translational science that will bring together leadership, tools and resources to help unravel the complexity of pain, driving new treatment development. This investment is part of a major new £24m initiative to establish an Advanced Pain Discovery Platform that is jointly supported by the UKRI Strategic Priorities Fund and Versus Arthritis and will lead to step changes in the understanding and treatment of chronic pain across a wide range of conditions.

The call will make £14m available through 4-year awards to fund high impact, multidisciplinary consortia that between them will bring together researchers across the breadth of biomedical, social and data sciences. The consortia are expected to establish enduring national-scale leadership, infrastructure and capability that extends beyond the initial 4-year award. They will serve to underpin a future broader portfolio of pain research supported by UKRI, Versus Arthritis and others, and should collaborate with each other to ensure added value from the Advanced Pain Discovery Platform. The consortia are expected to embrace complementary access to patients and healthy volunteers and underpinning technology. Areas of focus could include multi-omic biology, image data generation, biological, cognitive and psychosocial factor identification, exploiting existing biological samples and data as well as new sample/data collections. We expect to support 3-5 multidisciplinary consortia through this call.

Call information

The call will provide funding for collaborative multidisciplinary consortia that will focus on:

  • Pursuing innovative and ambitious “big ideas” in chronic pain research, which will enable a step change in the field.
  • Improving our understanding of the mechanisms of pain, building on our knowledge of normal pain processes to better understand chronic pain, taking into account biological, cognitive and psychosocial factors.
  • Collating, generating and interrogating human data and samples, to allow for the identification and validation of new interventions, and to allow improved access to well-phenotyped human populations.

Each application should demonstrate how it will:

  • Actively strengthen intersections between important disciplines that do not routinely engage with each other,
  • Build capacity in the field and develop skills.
  • Embed knowledge mobilisation.
  • Involve patient insight in the development of the outlined work as well as collaborate with them in the delivery of the proposed research.

It is expected that successful consortia will focus on chronic pain, offering important insights across chronic pain conditions. Applications may be focussed on specific pain-related disorders, or may consider common mechanisms underlying multiple pain conditions.

This initial call includes, but is not limited to, key staff posts and infrastructure costs, data collection and access, sample storage and sample analysis, with an emphasis on data and samples for patients and healthy volunteers. As these consortia will be co-funded between UKRI and Versus Arthritis, awards will be made at 67%.

As part of this APDP initiative, a second phase of complementary calls will be launched in the near future for hypothesis-led research projects (with the foci of these being either generated from within, or aligned to the successful consortia), a data management platform, and bioinformatics projects.


The call process will be in two stages:

  1. Expression of Interest
    To participate in this call for consortia, you must submit an Expression of Interest to UKRI via a bespoke online submission system by 31st of August 2020. The online submission system can be accessed here, there is an option to save your draft submission as you go. A pro-forma, which allows you to complete the Expression of Interest questions offline, can be found here. You must complete all sections of the form for your Expression of Interest to be eligible. The potential impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the preparation of expressions of interest is recognised by the funders, and it is anticipated that details of workstreams and consortium partners might evolve between selection and submissions of full application.
  2. Full application
    Shortlisted Expressions of Interest applications will be invited to submit a full application via Je-S by January 2021. Guidance on how to make the full submission will be provided to successful Expression of Interest applicants. Applicants will be invited to be interviewed by a bespoke panel of experts as part of the funding decision.

Expressions of Interest

The purpose of the Expression of Interest phase is to enable the selection of the highest quality applications, and those that are likely to develop into competitive full proposals. Assessment of Expressions of Interests will based on the following:

Scientific potential and tractability:

  • Is there a clear “big idea” in chronic pain research that is being considered, that sets this aside from standard project and programme grants?
  • What are the key hypotheses underpinning this “big idea”?
  • Are the data to be collected through the consortium necessary and sufficient to answer the questions being proposed?
  • Is there a compelling rationale for large-scale investment in this area?
  • Does the proposed consortium clearly describe the vision and science underpinning it?
  • Where relevant, is there potential for the research to stimulate future industry Research and Development or provide other value to industry?
  • Is it sufficiently ambitious whilst being realistic in terms of content and deliverables?

Quality of the consortium:

  • Does it seek to establish a dynamic research platform able to respond to internal and external scientific developments?
  • Does it present a set of work packages and governance structure that synergise across consortia, able to provide a balanced portfolio of short and longer term outputs, which can provide a range of partnering opportunities?
  • Does the consortium have an appropriate strategy to address the data management, data analysis and methodological challenges that it is likely to face?
  • Is there evidence of strong interdisciplinary partnerships within academic and clinical teams, (taking into account the biological, cognitive and psychosocial factors underpinning pain) and strong links with infrastructure, patients and industrial partners, or evidence of plans to build these networks in preparation for a full submission?
  • Is there a clear commitment for Patient and Public Involvement in the development of the application and to be embedded within the Consortium; and
  • In light of all of the above, is there a strong case for large scale investment in this consortium?

Where multiple consortia are submitting Expressions of Interest that are in similar areas of research, or where there is significant overlap, UKRI and Versus Arthritis, under guidance of its expert peer review panels, may ask that consortia work together at the full application stage. By submitting an Expression of Interest to this call, you are agreeing to UKRI/Versus Arthritis potentially sharing the Lead Investigator (Section 2.1), Title (Section 1.1), and Summary (section 1.2) from your Expression of Interest, with other applicants.

All sections of the Expression of Interest should be completed in order for the application to be eligible. Guidance on the different sections of the Expression of Interest form can be found below.

Section 1: Summary Information

1.1 Title

Please provide a title for your proposed consortium (max 150 characters)

1.2 Summary (max 400 words)

The Summary should be worded so that it is understandable by an informed lay audience. The summary must include the research objectives and plans for methodology, including experimental design. Information on the application and exploitation of the research results is required, as are details on the proposed techniques and approaches to be used.

1.3 Consortium Duration and Estimated Cost

Please include your proposed start date, given that decisions are expected in March 2021. It is expected that Consortia awards will extend for 48 months. If your Consortium will run for a shorter period of time, please explain your reasoning in Section 3. Consortia funding cannot be longer than 48 months in duration.

Please include your estimated costs for the consortium at 100% fEC. As these awards will be made in partnership with UKRI and Versus Arthritis, awards will be made at 67% fEC.

Section 2: Investigator Details

This call follows standard UKRI eligibility criteria and is open to UK-based researchers who can show that they will direct the proposed research and be actively engaged in carrying it through. Eligible institutions include UK higher education institutions, Research Council Units and Institutes, and eligible Independent Research Organisations (IROs). Please see here for definitions and eligibility criteria for potential investigators.

Research proposals that are led by commercial entities are not eligible.

2.1 Principal Investigator

Please include the relevant information for the Principal Investigator for the proposed consortium. Principal investigators must be based at an eligible UK research organisation.

2.2 Co-investigators

Please include the relevant details of any Co-Investigators (CoIs) that will assist in the management and leadership of the research.

CoIs should normally be able to meet the eligibility criteria for PIs and be based in the UK at an eligible research organisation. As an exception, researchers from overseas research organisations may be a CoI if they provide expertise not available in the UK. Inclusion of an overseas CoI must be discussed and agreed with the funders in advance of application. Please note that directly incurred costs for overseas research should be included at 100% fEC. Indirect and estates costs my only be requested for international partners from developing countries.

2.3 Researcher Co-Investigators

Please include the name of any Researcher Co-Investigators that will be contributing to the Consortium. Please see here for the definition of Researcher Co-Investigators.

2.4 Industrial Consortium Partners & 2.5 Non-Industrial Consortium Partners

Please include the name of any of Industrial or Non-Industrial Consortium Partners (Collaborators) who will be contributing to the Consortium.

MRC encourages and supports collaborative research projects and team approaches, especially between academic and industry researchers. Patient representatives are encouraged to be included in all phases of the consortia development and can be named as project partners. A project partner provides a substantial intellectual contribution to the project, and their organisation may also provide resources either in-kind or financially, project partners are not expected to request MRC funding to participate.

2.6 Subcontractors

Subcontractors should not be named as part of the Consortium team in sections 2.2 – 2.5. They carry out a specific piece of work on behalf of the investigators on a fee-for-service basis, with no potential claim as an inventor over any arising Intellectual Property (IP).

Section 3: Consortium Detail

3.1 Aims and Objectives (maximum of 500 words)

Please outline the main aims that the Consortium will be trying to address over the next four years, with regards to understanding chronic pain. Please describe how the consortia ambitions will take forward a bold and innovative vision (bringing together diverse expertise, tools, resources, data etc.) to transform our understanding of chronic pain and how it might be tackled. Please outline why large-scale consortia funding is required for this, rather than regular funding routes, such as project and programme grants.

3.2 Data to be collected (maximum of 300 words)

Identify and justify the resources (materials, methods, data, infrastructure, outsourced tasks, etc.) that will be collected in order to support the ambitions and address the questions raised in section 3.1. Please briefly discuss how data will be managed and any major risks you foresee. Please include milestones on the availability and usage of the data and resources that would be collected.

3.3 Outcomes and Impact (maximum of 300 words)

Please identify the main expected outcomes from the Consortium and the strategy for maximising their impact. Please outline the downstream route to patient benefit, taking into account the skills and resources that would be required to deliver this.

3.4 Collaborative working across APDP (maximum of 300 words)

Please outline the expertise that the various institutions bring to the Consortium, and how collaborative interdisciplinary work will be supported. What is the Consortium’s strategy for engagement with other potential APDP consortia, and with the wider research community?

Section 4: Patient and Public Involvement (maximum of 400 words)

Patient and Public Involvement will be an essential component of any consortium. Consortia are expected to involve patients in all aspects and stages of their work and governance. It is also expected that consortia support patients and patient groups in developing their own ways of working. Please provide an overview of the proposed strategy for patient and public involvement, including how further patient insight will be gathered and integrated into the Consortium’s work.

It is expected that patient insight would be involved in development of full proposal, and it is recognised that these plans may be worked up into a more robust strategy between the Expression of Interest and the full application.

Applicants should outline:

  • How patients have been involved in developing the scope of the proposal.
  • How patients would be involved in the development of a full proposal.
  • How will patients and the public would be involved in the proposed work and its governance.
  • How will you gather and use other patient insight to inform your work.

Submitting Expressions of Interest Applications

Submittal of applications will be via our online EoI tool. To complete your EoI, please click here – Complete SPF APDP EoI Application.

Please click the link to download a pro forma detailing the EoI questions and relevant word counts.

Key dates

The call for proposals will be launched in May 2020, with interviews and funding decisions to occur later in 2021. Given the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, UKRI and Versus Arthritis are currently working on determining the most appropriate timeline for this call.

The call for proposals will be finalised in discussion with key stakeholders and the newly appointed Programme Director and some of the details presented here may be subject to change.



Pre-call announcement

March 2020

Call for Expressions of Interest

29 May 2020

Deadline for Expressions of Interest

31 August 2020

Decisions on Expression of Interest

October 2020

Deadline for Full Applications

January 2021

Interviews and Decisions

March 2021

Start date

1 April 2021


If you would like to contact Professor Walsh in regards to the APDP please email David Walsh. Alternatively, if you would like to contact other members of the APDP Programme team or to be added to the APDP mailing list, please contact SPFPain@MRC.UKRI.org