Please tell us about your experience of this website today

Back to listing

Zika Rapid Response Initiative

To better understand the nature of the risk posed by the Zika virus, the Medical Research Council (MRC) is launching a £1m rapid response funding initiative.

The Zika virus is an emerging mosquito-borne virus, related to dengue, yellow fever, West Nile and Japanese encephalitis, first identified in Uganda in 1947. In May 2015, Brazil reported the first case of Zika virus disease in the Americas. Since then it has spread rapidly with cases now reported in 23 other countries and territories in the region.

An estimated 80% of persons infected with Zika virus are asymptomatic. Symptomatic disease is generally mild, with symptoms including fever, skin rashes, conjunctivitis, muscle and joint pain, malaise, and headaches.

The arrival of the virus in the Americas, notably in Brazil, has however been associated with an apparent steep increase in the birth of babies with abnormally small heads and in cases of Guillain-Barré syndrome, a serious neurological condition. While a causal relationship between Zika virus infection and birth defects and neurological syndromes has not been established, it is strongly suspected.

It is critical that robust evidence for the risks associated with Zika transmission and infection are obtained as soon as possible, to ensure that optimal management and prevention measures can be established. To support the collection of timely and robust evidence, the MRC is launching a £1m rapid response initiative, funded by the recently announced Global Challenges Research Fund, for investigators who are ready and able to undertake timely and appropriate studies on the Zika virus and epidemic.


Short term (12 – 18 month) proposals are sought that will provide novel, critical and timely insights into the nature of the risk posed by the Zika virus and/or potential avenues for its management or prevention. The MRC will work with successful applicants to access relevant response mode schemes to support downstream work, where appropriate and merited.

Studies should preferably build on existing relationships, either with researchers in affected countries and/or with relevant data/resource holders. Interdisciplinary proposals are welcomed, where appropriate.

Proposals must be timely, with rapid activation, to enable early and valuable outcomes to be established and/or to access time-dependent resources.

Applicants with less time sensitive proposals are welcome to submit these to relevant MRC Research Board and Panel response mode schemes.

Possible avenues of research include but are not limited to the following:

  • Epidemiological characteristics, e.g. vector transmission potential, geographical spread, interactions with other arboviruses, changing viral genotype, host susceptibility, incubation period, etc.
  • Development of more specific rapid diagnostic tests for Zika virus that can reduce misdiagnoses that may occur due to the presence of dengue or other viruses in a test sample.
  • Viral pathogenicity, association with and potential mechanistic links to neurodevelopment / microcephaly
  • Mechanisms of infection and host immune responses and potential therapeutics / vaccines


For this initiative, standard RCUK eligibility criteria, as described on the RCUK website, will apply. The Principal Investigator must be based at one of the following lead organisations:

  • Higher education institutions
    • All UK higher education institutions (HEI) that receive grant funding from one of the UK higher education funding bodies are eligible.
  • Research institutes, including MRC units/institutes and MRC University Units, for which the Research Councils have established a long-term involvement as major funder
    • Please note that MRC University Units should apply via their host HEI.
  • Independent research organisations (IROs)
    • A number of IROs are also eligible to apply for funding. A full list of IROs and the application process to become an IRO can be found on the RCUK website.

Principal Investigators may only submit one application to this initiative as a Principal Investigator, but may be involved in more applications, if listed as a Co-Investigator.

Researchers from overseas research organisations in affected countries providing important local engagement and context are welcomed as Co-Investigators on proposals. Other overseas researchers may be Co-Investigators, if they provide necessary expertise/access to resources not available in the UK.

Co-investigators from the state of Sao Paulo, Brazil, may be eligible for support from FAPESP under the RCUK/FAPESP memorandum of understanding. Prior to submitting an application under this agreement applicants should speak to the contacts MRC indicated below.

Funding available

In total up to £1m will be made available for this initiative.

While the size of grants will vary according to the needs of each research project, proposals will, in general, be expected to cost c. £100 – 150k, given their focus on gathering early and valuable insights.

Requested costs for UK based researchers should by 80% of full economic costs and, where relevant, for overseas researchers should be 100% of direct costs only. Applicants need only provided the total cost requested. A breakdown of costs by sub‑headings (Directly incurred, Directly allocated, etc.) is not required, However, a brief description of the resources required, including estimated costs, in the different contributing environments and confidence in access to these will need to be provided.


Proposals are anticipated to be short term (12 – 18 month) studies.

How to Apply

Applicants must apply by completing the Zika rapid response form, using the tab key to move between cells in the form, and submitting this as a pdf to by 12:00 midday on 22 February 2016.

Proposals should be accompanied by

  • An optional document of supporting figures, GANTT chart and/or data tables (no more than 1 x A4 page)
  • A C.V. for the Principal Investigator and any Co-Investigators. Each CV to provide relevant key publications and grants (no more than 1 x A4 page per C.V. using Arial 11 point).
  • Letters of support from the Principal Investigator’s Head of Department and Administering Authority.

Please note that successful applicants will be required to return their award acceptance within 5 working days of receipt, together with an invoice, from their Administering Authority. Failure to comply with these requirements could result in forfeiture of the award.

Key Dates

Closing Date for Submissions

    12 midday on 22 February 2016

Panel Meeting

    Early March 2016

Grant Start Date

Given that this opportunity is for timely proposals, grants are expected to start expeditiously.

Evaluation process

Proposals will be reviewed directly by an Expert Panel drawn from relevant MRC Board, Oversight Group and Panel membership, complemented where appropriate with additional expertise. Proposals will not be sent for external peer review and applicants will not have an opportunity to respond to referee comments.

Key assessment criteria for the submissions will include:

  • Potential to provide valuable novel insights into the threat posed by Zika and/or options for its management/prevention
  • Need for rapid activation
  • Access to required resources
  • Applicant expertise and experience
  • Partnership: including strength and clarity of collaborations and opportunities provided
  • Design and feasibility of project plan
  • Value for money

If submissions are received that might be better matched to the remit of a sister council, these will be shared with them, to potentially increase the number and range of supported projects.

The decisions of the Panel will not be open to appeal and the MRC reserves the right to amend the application process.

Ethics and governance

The MRC does not require ethics permissions and regulatory approvals to be in place when an application is submitted. If an application is successful, it is the responsibility of the host institution to ensure that the appropriate ethics approval(s) has been obtained and that no research requiring such approval is initiated before it has been granted.

Contacts and guidance

For general queries relating to the call, including queries relating to the administrative process of applying, please contact:

Sandeep Sandhu:

For scientific queries please contact: 

Morven Roberts: