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UK Nutrition Research Partnership (UK NRP) Collaborative Awards: Outline stage

Please note this opportunity is now CLOSED.
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The UK Nutrition Research Partnership (UK NRP) for health and disease is a partnership between the Medical Research Council (MRC), the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR).

The MRC, on behalf of the UK NRP, is pleased to invite proposals for multidisciplinary pump-priming Collaborative Awards.

Following the publication of the Review of Nutrition and Human Health Research the UK NRP wishes to strengthen the UK nutrition research base by attracting new expertise and new partners into the field. The objective is to provide novel and robust insights into human nutrition, with the potential of transforming the long-term health of the population.

The call has been developed to catalyse the formation of multidisciplinary research teams able to address important challenges in nutrition research that require innovative, cutting-edge approaches to accelerate progress; to build research capacity in the field, and to strengthen the UK nutrition research base.

The UK NRP Collaborative Awards will widen the research base and increase collaborations by bringing together expertise from within and without the current nutrition field. We are particularly keen to attract the most exciting and transformative collaborative applications, including partnerships across disciplines and between clinical and basic scientists.

A core element of these awards will be visionary leadership at the outset and a strong drive to build a collaboration with a broad range of research expertise, drawn from different disciplines, and from relevant non-academic sectors.

The aim of these awards is to identify important challenges and opportunities related to nutrition in human health and disease and, by working in a cross-disciplinary manner, begin to make a significant step-change in scientific progress. The collaborations should foster a range of innovative research ideas designed to address the challenge(s) identified by integrating expertise across disciplines.

Up to £2 million will be available for this call. The Collaborative Awards will provide funding for up to three years related to the challenge(s) identified. Support will be primarily for pump-priming feasibility research to provide proof of concept and the generation of important data to support further grant applications.

This is a two-stage call; outline applications will be assessed in October 2018 and full applications invited forward for assessment in February 2019.

This call is part of a long-term approach to build research capacity and partnerships through phased and strategic development. It is anticipated that the pump-priming funding will ensure the collaborative groups will be positioned to apply for future funding to lead new interdisciplinary and cross-sectoral research proposals. Our expectation is that the Collaborative Awards will have fostered the development of interdisciplinary groupings of scientists with the critical mass of expertise that will make them well-placed to obtain such funding.

Collaborative Award call process

The MRC will administer this call on behalf of the UK NRP. Standard MRC eligibility criteria will apply and further details are provided in the Collaborative Award guidance for the outline stage. There will be a two-stage application process for Collaborative Awards.

(i) Outline proposal - The outline case for support for Collaborative Awards should be submitted on the proforma supplied and completed following the specific guidance.

Collaborative Award guidance for the outline stage and the outline case for support form.

(ii) Full application - Guidance for the full application for Collaborative Awards will be made available to successful outline applicants in due course.

Outline proposals and guidance for Collaborative Awards

The purpose of the outline proposal is to ascertain the potential of the planned collaboration to fulfil the Collaborative Award call objectives.

Applicants must first submit an outline proposal via email using the outline case for support form. The accompanying guidance advises applicants how to complete the outline case for support form.

Please note that a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) document will be provided shortly after the launch of this call and will be updated at regular intervals.

Applicants should submit their completed outline case for support (in the formats specified in the guidance) and email it to UKNRPCOA@headoffice.mrc.ac.uk

Outlines must be received by 16:00 on 31 July 2018.

No late applications will be accepted.

Aims of the call for Collaborative Awards

The UK NRP Collaborative Awards will support interdisciplinary collaboration around an important challenge in nutrition research related to health and disease. Research partnerships will be appropriate to the challenge and may involve academic experts and appropriate science, policy, community, technology, public and third sector, user and industrial groups. The awards will enable a common language and understanding to be developed between different disciplines and sectors, enabling them to work productively together to address those challenges in nutrition research which require new insights and new research communities to be built around them.

The aims of the call are therefore to:

  • facilitate and support feasibility studies and the generation of robust pilot data and/or tools/technologies/methodologies and know-how. This is a key aim of the call
  • transfer research techniques, for example experimental techniques, models and scientific insights across disciplines in pursuit of new approaches to nutrition research
  • promote mobility of expertise between academia, universities, policy, practice and/or industry that builds capacity and capability to undertake novel approaches to nutrition research
  • enable different disciplines and sectors to build a shared language and vision (facilitated by the umbrella of the award) and to agree collective research goals.

It is anticipated that the pump-priming funding will ensure collaborations will be positioned to apply for funding to lead new interdisciplinary and cross-sectoral research proposals as Collaborative Awards would have developed the critical mass of expertise that can be brought to bear on nutrition research challenges.

Notes for applicants

Collaborative Award characteristics:

  • proposals for this call must be for new collaborations which offer a high level of innovation and novelty, both in terms of the partners and the challenge to be addressed. Pre-existing, established collaborations cannot apply for additional funding
  • collaborations should be multidisciplinary, bring different people together and catalyse ideas. No relevant discipline is excluded, although the disciplinary mix will be dictated by the nature of the challenge identified
  • co-leadership (designated as principal investigator and co-principal investigator) of each Collaborative Award, from two different disciplines, is required
  • the collaboration should focus on a key challenge and have the vision, leadership and drive to make a tangible contribution to the field. It might focus on the role of nutrition to improve health or the aetiology, prevention or treatment of a specific important disease or group of diseases, a critically important methodological challenge, or the development of transformative new tools and technologies
  • collaborations can cover the spectrum from basic science to more applied research, as relevant to the challenge
  • collaborations may be regional or national. As the award will bring together a range of disciplines and make linkages to relevant stakeholders/users of research, the expectation is that each Collaborative Award will operate across institutions and higher education institutions (HEIs) and will include at least two different HEIs/research organisations and preferably more than one geographical location. The collaboration should not appear insular and inward looking
  • applicants should explain how they will assemble the collaboration and provide adequate reassurance on its management and operation, long-term goals and generation of novel ideas
  • Collaborative Awards will encourage the active participation of early career researchers in novel ways, including relevant training opportunities
  • industrial partners may join the collaboration, particularly where links are already in place, to support pre-competitive research with translational potential in important areas
  • whilst this call is focused on building UK research capability, some outreach is encouraged. Overseas researchers may play a part in the collaboration where this is judged appropriate and provides clear added value (for example, unique expertise or infrastructure). However, the majority of the Collaborative Award funding should be held in the UK
  • contributions (in cash or in-kind) from host institutes and other partners to the collaboration are encouraged where this is appropriate to its mission
  • it is anticipated that collaborations will become self-sustaining through the income generated from future grant applications.


Strong leadership and an inclusive approach to bringing in new players and disciplines and building a diverse collaborative research community must be demonstrated.

A proactive and enthusiastic leadership team is an essential component of a successful collaboration. Collaborations should be inclusive and open and might grow and develop over the period of the award where this is relevant to the challenge.

Applicants may be the principal investigator (PI), co-principal investigator (Co-PI) and key co-investigators on only one application for a Collaborative Award. However, other members and partners may be involved in any number of applications provided they have the capacity to meet these commitments. This needs to be considered before applying and not after the publication of successful proposals.

Primary outcomes

Applicants should consider the likely primary outcomes for their Collaborative Award when developing their proposal. Relevant examples include:

  • the generation of robust pilot data and/or tools/technologies/methodologies and know-how related to an important nutrition challenge
  • building a new interdisciplinary community of researchers and users, some/many of whom will have no track-record or previous association with nutrition research
  • bringing in new approaches and new insights to nutrition and health research arena
  • groups of researchers with the critical mass of expertise, positioned to apply for additional sources of funding to undertake research to address nutrition research challenges.

Reporting of progress and outcomes

In addition to reporting via Researchfish®, Collaborative Awards (PIs and Co-Is together with other key staff) will be expected to:

  • participate in a 12-month progress meeting organised by one of the Collaborative Awards (see section on Funding available)
  • participate in any relevant activities organised by the UK NRP or MRC
  • respond to any requests from MRC regarding outcomes as required, during and following the end of the award.

Funding available

Up to £2 million is available for this call and the aim is to fund at least three UK NRP Collaborative Awards, each supported at a maximum total MRC contribution of £600,000 (£750,000 FEC) for a duration of up to 36 months. These awards can be used flexibly to support a range of relevant and justified activities, and should be used in such a manner as to best carry out the research to address the challenge. The MRC expects applications to demonstrate the maximum research impact from funding.

Requests for funding may include:

  • collaborative pump-priming research activities to address key UK NRP research challenges/opportunities identified by the collaboration - The majority of the Collaborative Award should be made available for pump-priming feasibility and proof of concept research studies to generate robust pilot data. Support requested must relate to the research challenge identified and serve to underpin more significant grant applications. Applicants are encouraged to think creatively about the range of activities that could support the delivery of a collaboration’s goals. For example, in addition to pilot studies, funds might provide support for short term people placements or exchanges to facilitate the development of new skills/expertise. Funding can help to purchase consumables, travel and subsistence related to pilot studies, or provide support for short term people placements or exchanges to facilitate the development of new skills/expertise. Funds can be requested for PDRA staff, consumables, travel and subsistence and any other costs usually under ‘Directly Incurred’ headings. We would expect some examples of the types of pilot projects at the application stage, but these studies should be developed during the course of the collaborative activities. Pump-priming funds will be funded at 80% FEC by the funders and should be allocated at 80% FEC for each project by the collaboration’s host institution. The institution where the research is to be undertaken will be responsible for the remaining 20%. As these are research-based projects, they can include a component to cover estates and indirect costs for the relevant institution. Costs for meetings to aid research collaboration can be requested and costed at 100% FEC due to their community focus. No general estates and indirect costs should be claimed in association with research collaboration meetings.
  • investigators’ salaries - The principal investigator (PI), co-principal investigator (Co-PI) may, if they so wish, request funds to cover their salary costs for the time spent on setting up and managing the collaboration. These costs should be reasonable and not constitute a significant proportion of the funds requested in the proposal. Costs for the time spent by the PI, Co-PI on the co-ordination of the collaboration will be funded at 80% FEC and include a contribution to estates and indirect costs. Co-investigators (‘key co-investigators’) may be included in the application where individuals have a clearly definable research leadership role central to the collaboration; however, it is anticipated that in most instances no contribution to their salary will be requested. The salary costs of other participants in the collaboration should not be included in the proposal. Where resources are requested for investigator time the proposal should outline the input of each of the named investigators and justify why the stated time commitment is necessary for the collaboration.
  • travel and subsistence - Travel and subsistence enabling members of a collaboration to meet to exchange ideas and expertise. Where possible, industrial collaborators should meet their own travel costs.
  • administrative support - Funding for administrative support can be requested to help the co-ordination of a collaboration. Costs should be reasonable and ideally only form a small part of the request for funding. Reasonable costs for communications, monitoring and dissemination of a Collaborative Award’s output can also be included.

The Collaborative Awards will not provide career development posts or studentships. They should, however, provide a strong base for training and early career researchers, PhD students and research assistants are encouraged to participate in Collaborative Award activities, as appropriate.

Collaborative Award progress meeting

Collaborations invited to submit a full proposal will be able to indicate whether they would be willing to organise a progress meeting for successful Collaborative Awards at the 12-month mark. One collaboration will be selected by the expert review panel to do this and will be awarded additional ring-fenced funding for this purpose.

Assessment process

Applications will be assessed by an expert review panel comprised of senior independent academics and appropriate stakeholders. The panel’s expertise will reflect the breadth of disciplines involved in the Collaborative Award proposals. Additional members with expertise in specific areas may be co-opted onto the panel as needed, especially for full applications. The expert review panel will feedback to the applicants and the funders, and might advise on how to better shape and/or rationalise the outline bids, especially where approaches to making linkages could be stronger.

Assessment criteria for outline applications

Applicants should consider carefully the following criteria which will be taken into account by the expert review panel when assessing proposals:

  • fit to the aims of the call
  • degree of novelty and innovation: whether the proposed collaboration is likely to be transformative and brings together appropriate disciplines and actors that may not normally be involved in nutrition research
  • the contribution the proposed collaboration will make towards addressing key challenges in the field. Are the research question(s) identified important, novel and likely to lead to significant new understanding in the medium to longer-term?
  • potential of the proposed collaboration to stimulate and deliver, in the medium-term, high-quality research of national importance
  • proposed research activities - the extent to which the planned activities allow the generation of new ideas and implementation of plans to address the specified challenge(s)
  • membership (including applicants) – does the collaboration encompass the relevant combination of expertise, across disciplines and sectors, needed to begin to address the challenge(s) identified?
  • suitability of core management team - the strength of the proposed collaboration and the range of expertise of the initial members
  • training - how the collaboration will provide a supportive environment for early career researchers, PhD students and research assistants
  • plans for wider engagement (such as academics, users) - mechanism for widening the participation and collaboration with other relevant disciplines and interactions with international leaders in the field as well as linkages to non-academic sectors
  • resources and management – the appropriateness of the requested resources and the effectiveness of the proposed management structure and plans
  • sustainability of the activity after the lifetime of the grant
  • impact:
    • existence of clearly thought through and acceptable pathways to impact
    • appropriate engagement plans with users to accelerate impact
    • appropriateness of communication and knowledge exchange plans.

Key dates

Launch of call

18 June 2018

Closing date for outline proposals

31 July 2018 16:00

Outline proposals assessed by expert review panel members

Early October 2018

Outline proposal feedback

October 2018

Closing date for full applications        

15 January 2019

Full applications assessed by full expert review panel

February 2019

The MRC reserves the right to amend the application process.


If you have a query about the scientific aspects of your proposal, please contact the UK NRP Programme Managers:

Dr Karen Finney: karen.finney@mrc.ukri.org

Dr Clara Fons: clara.fons@mrc.ukri.org

To discuss your eligibility or any other non-scientific queries please email: UKNRPCOA@headoffice.mrc.ac.uk