Funding opportunity

Funding opportunity: Build on existing COVID-19 infrastructure, partnerships and resources

Apply for funding to build on existing COVID-19 collaborative infrastructure, partnerships and resources.

You must be based at a UK research organisation eligible for MRC funding.

Proposals must be within remit of MRC’s four research boards.

You can apply for funding for between one and five years.

This funding opportunity is expected to be available for a minimum of 12 months, with future rounds closing for applications in September 2022, January 2023 and May 2023.

Who can apply

Standard MRC eligibility rules apply.

You must fulfil the ‘who can apply’ criteria of an MRC partnership grant.

Applicants wanting to request new high-value collaborative infrastructure, resources and capabilities are not eligible to apply through this highlight notice and should consider applying through the standard partnership grant route.

What we're looking for

A key response to the UK SARS-CoV-2 pandemic has been the formation of new collaborations and ways of working.

This highlight notice offers the opportunity to apply for funding to build on and develop these newly established infrastructure, partnerships and resources, sustaining high-value collaborative activities and research capabilities arising from the pandemic response.

Full application stage

The full application stage will require your partnership application to demonstrate:

  • significant novelty in infrastructure, partnerships and resources through previous COVID-19 funding that can be developed with a new award
  • how further funding would enable collaborative activities or capabilities to add value to high-quality medical research programmes across the remit of MRC’s research boards.

You should include the following information in your application:

  • how the new funding would leverage previously-funded COVID-19 infrastructure or relationships to build an enabling collaborative platform for future grant submissions around a compelling research question (a clear link to a scientific agenda will be critical)
  • how existing COVID-19 funding has successfully delivered against objectives
  • that existing funding has or would soon expire, limiting the long-term impact of the investment (existing funding could have been provided by MRC or other funders, providing the repositioned partnership is aligned with the MRCs four research boards)
  • how the proposal sits within the current landscape.

Proposals should not duplicate ongoing work and the scheme is not designed to fund standalone, hypothesis-driven research projects, which may otherwise be eligible for MRC research or programme grant type funding.

Partnership grants are expected to reach maturity by the end of the initial award, with any follow-on activities supported through alternative mechanisms.

This is a cross-board opportunity and proposals must be within scientific remit of MRC’s four research boards.

Proposals do not need to fit into a singular board remit. Applications spanning board remits are welcomed. You should not seek to artificially tailor applications to a particular board. Please see the below areas of investment and support pages, to view the scope and activities within each research board:

Proposals seeking funding for longitudinal population studies (LPS) core infrastructure support, for both new LPS and renewals of existing studies, will typically be out of remit for this highlight notice. MRC partnership grant proposals require applicants to articulate a pathway to sustainability without further core funding within the grant period. Instead, LPS proposals should apply through our standard route, initially by submission of an outline application for joint review by the LPS-Strategic Advisory Panel (LPS-SAP) and the host research board.

You must speak to the relevant programme manager at least six weeks before the outline submission deadline to confirm the eligibility of your application.

If you wish to apply for associated research that will use existing LPS, or if the study draws its participants from a group with a specific disease or condition (for example, it is a clinical cohort), an outline application is not required. You should submit your research proposal directly to the relevant research board or funding opportunity.

Further information can be found on the LPS-SAP pages.

How to apply

Pre-application stage

The pre-application for this highlight opportunity mirrors the standard partnership grant application process. It also requires applicants to include:

  • a summary of the key components of the previous COVID-19 award that is being repositioned
  • an overview of key capabilities that would be lost without further funding.

This should be no more than two pages of A4, but may include an extra page of references if needed.

The summary should include:

  • the title of the potential MRC partnership
  • a list of the principal investigator, co-investigators and their affiliations
  • a list of collaborators (if known at this stage)
  • the aims of your application. This should explain why the partnership is important, the nature of the partnership and its activities, and how these align with the partnership grant expectations
  • an estimate of the likely cost to MRC including staffing and equipment costs.

You should also provide a two-page CV for the principal investigator and co-investigators, including a summary of recent funding for those investigators. You can add a list of publications as page three of the CV document.

Pre-applications meeting the criteria of the highlight will be allowed to submit a full application via the Joint electronic-Submission (Je-S) system.

You will be advised within three to four weeks, if your application fits the required criteria or not. If your application does meet the required criteria, you will be advised of the appropriate board partnership grant opportunity that fits the MRC remit for your full application.

Please note that standard partnership grants are designed for establishing new activities, whereas this highlight notice is for building on and developing already established infrastructure and resources.

Please send your completed pre-application summary to Dr Claire De-May.


Full application stage

Full applications should include, as an attachment, up to two pages summarising the progress, outputs and impact of your previous work. This must focus on the novel collaborative and enabling aspects of the work and how this was delivered against initial objectives.

You should also cover the following within your summary:

  • how the new funding would leverage existing COVID-19 infrastructure or relationships to build an enabling collaborative platform for future grant submissions around a compelling research question (a clear link to a scientific agenda will be critical)
  • how prior work has successfully delivered against objectives around the COVID-19 pandemic
  • that existing funding has or would soon expire, limiting the long-term impact of the investment (existing funding could have been provided by MRC or other funders, providing the repositioned partnership is aligned with the MRCs four research boards).

You should also include ‘COVID highlight’ as a keyword, within your partnership application.

Application closing dates

Following the mandatory pre-application stage, successful applicants will be invited to submit to the appropriate research board depending on the remit of their application.

Application rounds close every January, May and September. Please see the links below for details of the next deadlines:

How we will assess your application

If your pre-application fits the required criteria, when you have submitted your full application it will be peer reviewed by independent experts from the UK and overseas.

Consideration will be given to the success of the previous COVID-19 investment on which the newly positioned partnership will be built, alongside assessment of the plans presented.

You can nominate up to three independent reviewers. We will invite only one to assess your research proposal and may decide not to approach any of your nominated reviewers.

Peer reviewers will assess your application and provide comments. They will also score it using the peer reviewer scoring system against the following criteria:

  • importance: how important are the questions, or gaps in knowledge, that are being addressed
  • scientific potential: what are the prospects for good scientific progress
  • resources requested: are the funds requested essential for the work? And do the importance and scientific potential justify funding on the scale requested? Does the proposal represent good value for money?

Read the detailed assessment criteria for each MRC grant type.

We will review these scores and comments at a triage meeting and expect to continue with the highest quality applications with potential to be funded. If your application passes the triage stage, we will give you the chance to respond to reviewers comments.

A board meeting will then discuss your proposal alongside other proposals received by the research board and decide if it is suitable for funding. We will make a decision within six months of receiving your application.

Find out more about the MRC peer review process.

Contact details

Get help with developing your proposal

For help and advice on costings and writing your proposal, please contact your research office in the first instance, allowing sufficient time for your organisation’s submission process.

Ask about this funding opportunity

Dr Claire De-May, programme manager for virology


Dr Steve Oakeshott, head of infections and immunity


Additional info

A key success of the UK’s pandemic response has been the formation of new collaborations and ways of working.

The emergence of federated networks of researchers cohering around shared goals, with open sharing of expertise, facilities, data and samples and often reaching across disciplinary boundaries, has demonstrated real potential for future investment.

However, many of the major investments in this space are now drawing to an end and there is a risk that these partnerships, capabilities and platforms may not be optimally sustained without future support.

The purpose of this highlight opportunity is to enable current COVID-19-facing platforms and programmes to either:

  • sustain and grow research capability addressing SARS-CoV-2
  • reposition to enable innovative discovery science in MRC’s remit, providing a basis for future research-focused funding applications.

Partnership grants are not designed themselves to fund standalone, hypothesis-driven research projects. Costs for such work are not eligible through this scheme.

Examples of the types of collaborative activities that, in combination, typically comprise a successful partnership grant, are described in our introduction to partnership grants.

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