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South Africa-UK Antibiotic Accelerator Initiative

Please note this opportunity is now CLOSED.
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MRC-UKRI logoNewton Fund logo SAMRC logo

The UK MRC and South African MRC (SAMRC) are pleased to invite proposals to the South Africa – UK Antibiotic Accelerator under the umbrella of the Newton Fund.

This initiative will provide funding for high quality collaborative research partnerships focused on addressing the growing global burden of antimicrobial resistance, specifically antibacterial resistance in (South) Africa, through drug discovery.

In total, the MRC will make up to £2 million available to support the antibiotic accelerator over a three-year period. The UK contribution will be matched by SAMRC who will provide up to R24 million.

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Antimicrobial resistance (AMR), especially bacterial resistance to antibiotics (ABR), is a growing problem in the world. We are facing a rise in the number of bacteria becoming resistant to existing antibiotics without an increase in new antibiotics or, alternative treatments. The upsurge in resistance is driven by a complex interplay of biomedical, animal, social, cultural and environmental factors. It is clear that an international and interdisciplinary approach is needed to tackle these challenges and make a step change in addressing AMR. There is an urgent need to develop new drugs and train the next generations of researchers in the field of AMR.

In April 2019, the MRC and the SAMRC, launched the South Africa – UK Antibiotic Accelerator initiative under the umbrella of the Newton Fund. The Newton Fund is an initiative intended to strengthen research and innovation partnerships between the UK and emerging knowledge economies. The fund forms part of the UK’s Official Development Assistance (ODA) commitment which is monitored by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). As such, this South Africa – UK Antibiotic Accelerator initiative focuses on outcomes that promote the long-term sustainable growth of (South) Africa and is administered with the promotion of the economic development and welfare of South Africa as its main objective

In June 2019, the South Africa-UK AMR Drug Discovery Partnership workshop took place in Cape Town to inform this South Africa – UK Antibiotic Accelerator. This brought together leading researchers from both countries and multiple research disciplines, to better understand the key microbial targets of public health concern in South Africa and explore national strengths and areas of potential complementarity. The workshop was also an opportunity to establish partnerships and scope this present initiative.

A summary of workshop presentations can be found on the workshop presentation page. 

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This initiative will provide funding for a collaborative Antibiotic Accelerator focused on drug discovery addressing the challenge of AMR in South Africa with the aims of:

  • supporting large-scale collaborative research in antibacterial drug discovery for pathogens of relevance to human health in South Africa.
  • supporting the mobility and exchange of UK and South African researchers to enhance links between researchers in both countries
  • building capacity within antibiotic drug discovery, particularly in the context of historically disadvantaged institutions in South Africa
  • enhancing existing partnerships and developing new partnerships between the UK and South Africa in the area of antibiotic drug discovery
  • allowing the programme to nucleate a potentially global pre-competitive drug discovery consortium
  • strengthening the strategic relationship between the UK and South Africa.

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The objective is to deliver significant research funding for internationally competitive and innovative collaborative partnerships between researchers from South Africa and the UK to enable the pursuit of shared research interests while building capacity in antibacterial drug discovery.

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ABR is a complex and growing global problem. It is clear that an international approach is needed to provide a step change in the pre-competitive antibiotic discovery pipeline and reduce duplication of effort. This call has been launched under the Newton Fund and as such the consortium should be collaborative in nature and be focused on addressing the needs of South Africa.

Through this initiative, the funders are seeking to support a genuinely collaborative SA-UK Antibiotic Accelerator composed of hubs in the UK and South Africa, with integrated opportunities for capacity building. Bids should seek to build on existing collaborations, initiatives, databases, novel chemistry and compound libraries were possible, and propose a robust governance and management structure that will ensure the sustainability of the Accelerator.

The pre-competitive development and testing of new compounds as well as a pipeline of validated compounds and the sharing of relevant chemical matter targeting bacterial strains of greatest public health concern to South Africa are particularly encouraged. Applications with innovative approaches to assay development, high throughput compound screening and lead development with scope for expansion if and when opportunities arise will be prioritised. The final accelerator will include multiple geographically distributed groups focusing on different work packages with a robust overarching governance mechanism to ensure equitable distribution of funds in line with the objective of the initiative. The following pathogens, relevant to the context of AMR in South Africa are within the remit of this call:

  • Neisseria gonorrhoeae
  • Acinetobacter baumannii
  • Pseudomonas aeruginosa
  • Enterobacteriaceae
  • Gram-negative carbapenem-resistant pathogens
  • Klebsiella pneumoniae
  • Campylobacter
  • Haemophilus influenzae
  • Helicobacter pylori
  • Salmonella spp, in particular S.typhi
  • Shigella spp

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To accelerate the discovery and development of new antibiotics of relevance to South Africa, the following topics are in scope for this call:

  1. Assay and high throughput screening development for new chemical identification
  2. Hit to lead compound development including ADMET
  3. Novel compound discovery (natural or synthetic) ideally with purified fractions
  4. Deconvolution of natural extracts of identified actives
  5. Novel chemical structures and synthetic chemistry
  6. Structural biology
  7. In silico modelling

The scope of this call does not include:

  • Tuberculosis (TB) and HIV – these are funded outside of this call
  • Viral, fungal or parasitic resistance - the current focus of this call is on resistant bacterial pathogens of humans but we acknowledge antimicrobial issues in other classes of pathogens are important
  • Gram positive bacteria

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The Antibiotic Accelerator

The Accelerator is not a physical entity, but rather an agreed collaboration and a way of working together. The successful Accelerator will be jointly funded by the Newton Fund and the SAMRC. The Accelerator will comprise one hub in the UK and one hub in South Africa. Each hub may comprise researchers/research groups from multiple research disciplines and preferably from multiple research organisations. Within the hubs, research nodes should contribute in an integrated way, to clearly defined work streams or packages.

The accelerator must include a core research programme supported by a range of collaborative activities. Where applicable, project partners should align existing resources and infrastructure to augment the research programme. Evidence of activities supporting capacity building in South Africa, particularly in Historically Disadvantaged Institutions (HDIs) must be provided.  The programme of activities, including choice of pathogens, source of chemical matter and balance of leadership and activity within each work package should be justified by the applicants. In addition, a set of metrics and milestones must be presented to gauge progress against deliverables on an annual basis.

The funders expect to see the following elements in any application to this call:

  • Joint work flows, together constituting a research programme, between researchers at the partner institutions
  • Resourcing for programme management including annual face to face meetings for all work package leads
  • Training opportunities for doctoral and post-doctoral researchers preferably, technicians and early career researchers, to contribute to capacity building in South Africa
  • Genuine joint impact and knowledge exchange, in particular between the HDIs and other components of the Hub

Examples of additional activities which could be supported include:

  • Research staff exchanges, including short and longer term visits, exchange of technicians, masters or PhD students, post-doctoral researchers and visiting fellows
  • Enabling the sharing of key resources (for example datasets, training guides, protocols for data collection and management) across the partner institutions
  • Supporting wider activities to strengthen links, for example holding symposia, workshops, seminars, meetings etc.
  • Outreach activities, which may include engaging stakeholders, the public, decision makers, policy makers, industry etc.
  • Open access of data and outputs

Following the intention to submit, the MRC and SAMRC reserve the right to suggest alternative arrangements for the proposed consortia, where obvious research synergies are identified, or repetitions can be avoided.

To ensure the success of the Accelerator to drive further initiatives in the drug discovery sector, a steering committee will be set up by the funders. The steering committee will include representatives of the MRC and SAMRC as well as relevant independent advisers, who will advise on the running and management of the Accelerator during its lifecycle.

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This call will fund an Antibiotic Accelerator comprised of UK- and South Africa-based researchers working on pre-competitive antibacterial drug discovery. It is important to note that:

  • This is an open call; applicants do not need to have attended the SA-UK AMR DD workshop or previously held a SA-UK AMR partnership grant in order to apply.
  • Full applications are conditional on having submitted an intention to submit.
  • The funding agencies will play a further brokering role in this call, after the intention to submit stage.
  • For support under this call, applicants must be eligible to apply for funding from their respective country’s funding agency:
    • For the UK, applicants must be from an RO eligible for funding from UKRI, as described on the MRC website.
    • South African applicants must be eligible for funding from SAMRC and should use the appropriate project code when submitting applications.
All proposals for this call must meet Newton Fund requirements. In particular, proposals must be compliant with Official Development Assistance (ODA) funding rules. For further information see the fact sheet: What is ODA?

Principal Investigators (PIs) may only submit one application to this scheme as PI but may be involved in more applications if listed as a Co-Investigator.

Applicants with queries regarding eligibility should contact international@mrc.ukri.org.

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Funding available

In total, up to £3.3 million ~ R60 will be made available for a single Accelerator. The UK costs should be requested at 80% FEC and the SA costs at 100%FEC.

Applicants do not need to request equal amounts from both sides (UK and South Africa). The difference in values should reflect the difference in costs covered and local prices. The agencies also expect the costs on each side to accurately reflect the research effort to be carried out. It is expected, however, that the research effort and intellectual input on both sides should be comparable.

Funding will not cover capital items in the UK.

For further information, please read the scheme specific Guidance for Applicants to the South Africa-UK Antibiotic Accelerator.

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Projects must start on or before 1 April 2020. Projects must be three years in length so must have completed by the end of March 2023.

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Application guidelines and process

Pre-Award process

Please note, this is a jointly led UK-South Africa initiative.

The UK’s MRC will manage the pre-award stage which includes:

  • managing receipt of the Intention to Submit
  • managing receipt of written applications via Je-S system
  • managing the peer review process
  • engaging with PIs on peer reviewed comments.

Applicants must therefore submit their jointly written application to the UK MRC via the Je-S system, please see the MRC Guidance for applicants.

Post-Award process

SAMRC will manage the post award process of the grant which includes:

  • sending successful grant award letter to the PI
  • concluding a funding agreement with the South African (SA) PI’s host institutions. The UK PI will then be subcontracted by the SA Institution. SAMRC will not be contracting directly with any UK institution. Final UK and SA budgets will be subject to negotiation with SAMRC, and subject to changes due to the exchange rate
  • managing the grant for the life time of the project.

Full applications must be submitted by UK PI’s on behalf of both UK and South Africa PIs to the MRC via the Je-S application system by 16:00 BST on Tuesday 5 September 2019.

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How to apply

Intention to submit

Researchers planning to submit to this scheme are asked to submit a compulsory Intention to submit via our online form. The deadline for expressions of interests is at 23:59 (BST) Monday 22 July 2019.

Failure to submit a valid ‘Intention to Submit’ by the deadline will invalidate your full submission.

The Intention to submit received will assist the funders in preparing for peer review. This step will not involve an assessment of the proposal; therefore, applicants should not expect to receive feedback from the funders. Once you have submitted the Intention to submit, please proceed with producing your application and do not wait for a confirmation from the funders.

Please note, the information you provide will be shared with peer reviewers.

Full application summary

The deadline for full applications is 16:00 BST Tuesday 5 September 2019 via the Je-S system.

Applications must be submitted by the UK PI on behalf of the UK-South African research partnership. The application must be jointly prepared. Once received, MRC will share the applications with the relevant South African partner; therefore, no further documents need to be submitted to SAMRC. As this will be the single application document, it is vital that the joint application form provides full details of the work proposed for both the UK and South African components. In appreciation of this short deadline, some flexibility will be given to consistencies between the Intention to submit and full applications, however lead-PIs must remain equivalent.

For further information, please read the scheme specific Guidance for Applicants to the South Africa Antibiotic Accelerator Initiative.

Further guidance can also be found in the: MRC Guidance for Applicants and SAMRC-Newton grant funding guidelines.

Please remember, all ethical sections must be completed for any relevant activities, whether they take place in South Africa or the UK.

ODA transparency and reporting

As part of the government’s commitment to ODA transparency and in line with DfID ODA reporting requirements, UKRI is responsible for publishing information about UKRI ODA grants including project titles and summaries via the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI) registry and via DfID’s national statistics.

The purpose of publishing information via the IATI registry is to make information about ODA easily accessible to governments, stakeholders and other relevant groups in beneficiary countries. All UKRI funded projects from this programme will be published in this way.

Please therefore write your project title and summary in such a way that they are meaningful and accessible to non-specialist audiences, following publication.

We would be grateful if you would ensure that the project title and summary are written in plain English and avoid the use of jargon, acronyms, puns and plays on words. Please also make clear in your project title and summary how your project is ODA compliant, for example by identifying the development challenge(s) being addressed, the aims of the project and the beneficiary countries.

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Assessment process and criteria

Following submission, peer-review will be undertaken by the funding agencies. To be funded, proposals must be internationally competitive and at a standard equivalent to that normally expected to be supported by each funding organisation. Applicants will be given the opportunity to provide a written response to peer review comments prior to the panel meeting in November 2019.

Key assessment criteria for the submissions will be:

  • partnership: including strength and clarity of collaborations and opportunities provided, quality of the project management structure proposed, and the added value of the UK-South Africa collaboration
  • capacity building potential
  • significance and impact of the research
  • rationale: novelty, importance, interdisciplinarity and timeliness of the joint research proposal
  • design and feasibility of the project plan
  • collaborations with HDI researchers
  • quality and suitability of the research environment and of the facilities
  • value for money for South Africa and UK science
  • ethical considerations and governance arrangements

In addition, applicants must describe how the proposed UK funded work is ODA compliant [approximately one A4 side of a page]. This section will be made publicly available. For further information on ODA, please see the Newton Fund webpage on ODA

Applications received, comments from all peer-reviewers and PI response will be assessed by the joint MRC UKRI - SAMRC Review Panel in November 2019. This panel will consist of academic experts from both UK and South Africa, where final decisions will be made.

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Key dates

Closing date for investigators to indicate their intention to submit a proposal 22 July 2019
Deadline for investigators to submit proposal 5 September 2019
External peer review September - October 2019
PI response to peer reviews November 2019
Panel meeting 27-28 November 2019
Outcome January 2020

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The Newton Fund

The Newton Fund builds research and innovation partnerships with 17 active partner countries to support their economic development and social welfare, and to develop their research and innovation capacity for long-term sustainable growth. It has a total UK Government investment of £735 million up until 2021, with matched resources from the partner countries.

The Newton Fund is managed by the UK Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), and delivered through 7 UK delivery partners, which includes UK Research and Innovation (comprising the 7 research councils and Innovate UK), the UK Academies, the British Council and the Met Office.

For further information visit the Newton Fund homepage and follow via Twitter: @NewtonFund

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