Funding opportunity

Funding opportunity: Cell and oligonucleotide therapy fellowship with AstraZeneca

Apply for a fellowship to explore your own research ideas and develop links with industry, including secondments, training and mentorship.

Your research project should support the development of cell and oligonucleotide therapies.

You must have:

  • a PhD, or equivalent higher research degree, by the start of the fellowship
  • the support of a research organisation eligible for MRC funding.

This opportunity is open to both clinical and non-clinical researchers.

You should be in the early stage of your postdoctoral career.

The full economic cost of your fellowship can be up to £500,000. MRC will fund 80% of the full economic cost. You will be funded for three years.

Who can apply

The ‘Cell and oligonucleotide therapy fellowship with AstraZeneca’ funding opportunity will support talented non-clinical and clinical postdoctoral researchers to explore their own research ideas and develop links with industry, through secondments, training and mentorship opportunities.

To be eligible for this award, you must:

  • have completed a PhD or equivalent higher research degree, or expect to have done so by the time you take up the award
  • have the support of an eligible research organisation where you will be based for the duration of the fellowship.

There are no eligibility rules based on years of postdoctoral experience. However, you are not eligible to apply if:

  • you hold, or have held, an equivalent competitive fellowship that provides the opportunity to establish an independent research group
  • you have already established independent researcher status.

You must not have another UKRI fellowship application under consideration at the same time.

This opportunity is open to both clinical and non-clinical researchers. You can apply if you’re a registered healthcare professional. This includes, but is not limited to:

  • nurses
  • midwives
  • allied health professionals
  • healthcare scientists
  • pharmacists
  • clinical psychologists
  • doctors
  • dentists
  • general practitioners.

Doctors and dentists are expected to be at an appropriate point in their clinical training to undertake research. Applicants who have not yet obtained their ‘certificate of completion of training’ (CCT) should consult their deanery before developing an application. Healthcare professionals (excluding doctors and dentists) must have completed their professional training.

You must have the support of an eligible research organisation where you will be based for the duration of the fellowship. These include:

  • higher education institutions
  • UKRI-approved independent research organisations or NHS bodies
  • government-funded organisations
  • MRC institutes
  • MRC units and partnership institutes
  • institutes and units funded by other research councils
  • public sector research establishments (PSREs).

In all cases, your supervisory team should have an established track record in the specified scientific priority areas and should support you to develop an academically-led research project within the scope of the funding opportunity. They must guarantee access to the appropriate space and resources needed to deliver the research project.

Career breaks and flexible working

We welcome applications from individuals who may have undertaken non-standard or non-typical academic routes pre or post-PhD prior to application. Career breaks, flexible working and changes in discipline will be taken into account when assessing research experience to date and track record.

In line with MRC’s policy on flexible working, awards may be held on a part-time basis to reflect current or future working patterns. The fellowship is expected to be your entire professional focus for the period of the award.

However, you may spend up to six hours a week on other commitments such as teaching, supervising or other funded projects, or you may undertake up to two clinical sessions a week, as part of a full-time award.

Read our guidance for reviewers on career breaks and flexible working and our policies on flexible working.

International applicants

Proposals are welcomed from applicants of all nationalities, subject to the fellowship being hosted by an eligible research organisation.

Award holders are eligible for a Global Talent visa under the ‘exceptional promise’ category for future research leaders. Find out about the Global Talent visa.

What we're looking for

We are looking for discovery research proposals that underpin the development of cell and oligonucleotide therapies.

Applications should focus on the following areas that align to MRC and AstraZeneca priorities within this field.

‘Cell therapy’ includes:

  • mechanistic understanding to define and refine cell based-therapies
  • human cell engineering, gene editing and cellular reprogramming approaches for cell therapy
  • modulation and improved understanding of the human tissue niche (for example, establishing mechanisms for differentiation in transplanted stem cells or understanding immunological barriers)
  • improving efficacy of engraftment and regeneration of transplanted cells
  • universal cells (for example, the generation of hypoimmunogenic cells, with built-in features such as safety switches)
  • application of immune cells in non-oncology cell therapy settings.

‘Oligonucleotide therapeutics’ includes:

  • mechanistic understanding of processes involved in oligonucleotide delivery, intracellular processing and activity
  • exploration of factors affecting efficacy and tolerability of therapeutic antisense oligonucleotides in disease-relevant cell types, for example, oligo-protein binding and mechanistic toxicity
  • establishing generalised predictive systems to improve ‘in vitro-in vivo’ correlation in the development of oligonucleotide therapies
  • development of approaches enabling standardised analysis of oligonucleotide uptake, distribution and activity.

The host institute of the successful fellow will need to enter into a research agreement with AstraZeneca within three months of the funding being awarded. For information on intellectual property considerations see ‘additional information’.

Key criteria for fellows

This fellowship is aimed at postdoctoral applicants at the ’exploration’ stage of their research career.

Check how your career stage maps to fellowships offered by MRC.

In your application you should:

  • describe why an industry-sponsored fellowship is the best way to support your long-term career goals and chosen career route
  • demonstrate how your skills and experience match those of the ‘postdoc early career stage’ as specified in the following key criteria.

Research vision

You should:

  • have a clear understanding of the contribution of your research to your field
  • be able to demonstrate independent research ideas, show an awareness of research in other fields, and an appreciation of the importance of working across different sectors and disciplines of the research and innovation landscape
  • have planned a coherent and integrated research project that aligns with the specified scientific priority areas and which enables you to develop your research skills as well as your awareness of the translational pipeline and the contribution of commercial organisations to healthcare innovation.

Research experience and potential

You should:

  • have delivered at least one previous research project and show evidence of outputs, for example, publications, conference presentations
  • be starting to establish research contacts independent of your current group leader or supervisor.

Personal development

You should:

  • have a clear proposal of how specific, high-quality training will enable you to gain the additional skills needed to deliver your research plans
  • be able to outline how you will seek opportunities to access career development support, for example, professional training development and relevant training courses, to complement the opportunities provided through the industry collaboration
  • be able to outline how access to an industry setting will support personal development needed to meet your long-term career goals.


You should show a potential to lead and inspire, for example through organisation of peer activities, workshops, journal clubs or supporting individuals at an earlier career stage.

Communication and engagement skills

You should:

  • have excellent communication and interpersonal skills and aim to develop these across different audiences
  • show how your research outcomes will be communicated and disseminated within and outside the research community
  • be able to articulate how academically-led basic studies can translate to healthcare innovations.

Profile and influence

You should have a strong, practical sense of how you will develop your career to become a leading researcher.

Funding available

This fellowship provides support for three years and provides a competitive salary, giving you the chance to concentrate fully on your research, training and development.

You may spend up to six hours a week (pro-rated for part-time fellowships) on other commitments such as teaching, demonstrating, other funded projects, or you may undertake up to two clinical sessions a week.

The fellowship award will cover the full cost of your salary as well as:

  • consumables expenses
  • travel costs
  • appropriate capital equipment
  • estates and indirect costs.

You should allocate travel and subsistence funds for travel to an AstraZeneca site twice a year (1 national and 1 international visit), staying for 1 to 4 weeks each time.

You may also include costs for conference attendance where this will benefit your research directly.

You should not request additional staff costs.

Requests must be appropriate to the project up to a maximum of £500,000 which we will fund at 80% under the full economic costing framework. You must be able to justify the amount you need to meet the objectives of your research proposal.

You cannot hold a salaried position at a university and a fellowship at the same time. If you are awarded a fellowship, you will need to give up the permanent position for the duration of the fellowship or change to a proleptic appointment.

Healthcare professionals who wish to apply should hold a contract of employment or an honorary contract with the host research organisation for the duration of the award. The host research organisation will be responsible for administering the award and ensuring the required contractual arrangements are in place.

Ethical and policy considerations

In addition to UKRI’s guidance, policies and standards on research ethics and integrity, open research and responsible innovation, the host institute of the successful fellow will need to conduct research according to AstraZeneca’s ethics and transparency policies.

How to apply

There are two parts to your application.

  1. register an ‘expression of interest’
  2. submit a full application.

Expression of interest

Registration is mandatory.

Please register by 16:00 on 28 January 2022.

Register your expression of interest.

Once you have registered your interest, please continue with your full application.

Note that MRC reserves the right to decline full applications on eligibility grounds where the registration of interest form has not been completed and submitted by the deadline of 16:00 on 28 January 2022.

Full application

You must apply using the Joint Electronic Submission system (Je-S) before the deadline of 16:00 on 8 March 2022.

We recommend you start your application early. You can save completed details in Je-S at any time and return to continue your application later.

To enable the creation and submission of a proposal through Je-S, the host or lead organisation is required to have registered with Je-S. A list of Je-S registered organisations can be accessed from the Je-S landing page. Please note that this does not include self-registered organisations.

If your PSRE is not currently registered, please navigate to the Je-S website and select ‘self-registration for organisations’, which will allow you to add your organisation to the Je-S database (allowing the direct submission of your proposal to MRC through Je-S).

The applicant (fellow), will then be able to create their Je-S account and link the organisation they have self-registered, for example the currently unregistered PSRE that will host the award.

When applying select:

  • council: MRC
  • document type: fellowship proposal
  • scheme: fellowships, FEC
  • call/type/mode: MRC AstraZeneca Industry Postdoctoral Fellowship Mar 2022.

You should include the prefix ‘MICA’ in your project title.

You are not required to submit a MRC industry collaboration agreement (MICA) or ‘heads of terms’ at the time of application. Please see the intellectual property considerations in ‘additional information’.

Please read how to complete the Je-S form for an MRC fellowship application.

All attachments must use font Arial size 11, or non-word equivalent such as Helvetica size 11.

The ‘case for support’ should be a maximum length of five (A4) pages.

Attachments can be uploaded to Je-S as one of these file types:

  • PDF (preferred option for MRC)
  • Microsoft Word (.doc or .docx).

You can find advice on completing your application in the Je-S handbook. In addition, your host organisation will be able to provide advice and guidance on completing your application.

For more information on the application process, read the guidance for MRC fellowship applicants.

You may apply to any MRC fellowship scheme no more than twice even if your proposal changes.

We expect you to take up your fellowship no more than six months after the date of the review meeting.

How we will assess your application

Successful research programmes will be selected using the MRC assessment process. This will be an open, competitive funding opportunity with MRC-led peer review.


Your proposal will be checked to ensure eligibility and alignment with the scientific scope of the funding opportunity. It will then be peer reviewed by independent experts from the UK and overseas.

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.


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?

An expert panel, with representatives from AstraZeneca, will then discuss your proposal and select which applicants will be shortlisted and invited to interview.


Shortlisted applicants will attend an interview conducted by the expert panel. This panel will make the final decision on which applicants shall receive funding.

Consideration may be given to balancing the portfolio of funded applications across the two main research themes where candidates are ranked equally.

Read the detailed MRC assessment criteria for postdoctoral fellowships.

Final decision and feedback

We will let you know as soon as possible after we have made a final decision about your application. This is usually within five working days of your interview.

If you reach the interview stage, we will send you feedback and let you know the reasons for the panel’s decision. If you are not invited to interview, we will send you copies of the external reviewers’ comments.

We aim to make a decision within six months of receiving your full application.

Find out more about the MRC fellowship assessment process and an overview of the MRC peer review process.

Contact details

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Additional info

Intellectual property (IP) considerations

The host institute of the successful fellow will need to enter into a research agreement with AstraZeneca within three months of the funding being awarded. Funding shall not be released to the host institute until the research agreement is completed and approved by MRC.

This agreement will formalise arrangements between AstraZeneca and the host institute in relation to the fellow being allocated an industry mentor and accessing other additional benefits from AstraZeneca, such as secondments and access to AstraZeneca training.

Furthermore, the agreement shall cover the ownership and management of intellectual property that is generated by the fellow and be consistent with MICA.

It is expected that, subject to their normal policies, the host institute shall own arising intellectual property generated during the fellowship. Arrangements for protection or exploitation of arising intellectual property shall not prevent the future progression of academic research.

AstraZeneca and the host institute may agree to grant to the other a non-exclusive right to use intellectual property generated during the fellowship (and which it owns) for the purposes of academic (in case of the host institute) or internal (in the case of AstraZeneca) research.

Additional arrangements may be required should the fellow and AstraZeneca agree the fellow may access compounds proprietary to AstraZeneca or should the fellow collaborate with AstraZeneca employees and those AstraZeneca employees contribute to the generation of intellectual property.

In addition, MRC and AstraZeneca recognise the importance of researchers, particularly fellows, being able to disseminate their research results in accordance with academic custom and practice.

Therefore, intellectual property provisions in the research agreement will also not adversely impact the ability of fellows to publish or otherwise disclose the results of their research. Short delays to enable appropriate protection of intellectual property would be acceptable.

Advanced therapies

‘Advanced therapies’, which include gene, cell and engineered tissue therapies, have been identified as a health focus area in the MRC Delivery Plan (PDF, 5.7MB).

Advanced therapies have the potential to offer treatments for currently unmet clinical needs, and the UK is ideally placed to globally lead due to the strong underpinning research capabilities in academia and industry. For example through:

  • the UK Regenerative Medicine Platform (UKRMP)
  • the Nucleic Acid Therapy Accelerator (NATA)
  • the Cell and Gene Therapy Catapult.

To ensure the UK stays at the forefront of this area MRC has ambitions to:

  • provide sustained investment in research and development of new advanced therapies and their underpinning enabling technologies
  • build critical mass of future leaders
  • strengthen partnerships with academic and commercial stakeholders.

The NATA programme, funded by the UKRI Strategic Priority Fund and managed by the MRC, supports multidisciplinary approaches to the development of new genetic medicines.

NATA Hub is a new UK research centre offering innovative approaches across the pre-clinical pathway, from oligo design, synthesis and characterisation, through to in vitro screening and in vivo assessment of safety, distribution, and efficacy.

A £6 million funding opportunity launching in November 2021 will support an international cross-sector consortium to tackle major barriers to safe and effective nucleic acid therapy delivery through the development of novel technologies, platforms and resources. Read further information about the November 2021 nucleic acid funding opportunity.


AstraZeneca is a global, science-led biopharmaceutical company that focuses on the discovery, development and commercialisation of innovative medicines, primarily for the treatment of diseases in three therapy areas:

  • oncology
  • cardiovascular, renal and metabolism
  • respiratory and immunology.

The company is growing its cell and nucleic-acid therapies portfolio, with the recent launch of the Bioscience Cell department and Oligonucleotide Discovery department.

To support innovative science-led discoveries in advanced therapeutics, AstraZeneca is building academic partnerships with UK researchers, through the Cell Therapy Open Innovation Programme and funding for postdoctoral research associates (PDRAs) and PhD studentships.

Further information about AstraZeneca can be found on the AstraZeneca website. For example, how AstraZeneca is harnessing the power of cell therapy and gaining new insights to broaden therapeutic opportunities of oligonucleotides.

MRC support for research careers

MRC is committed to the training and development of the next generation of research leaders by supporting the breadth of research careers, while attracting a diverse range of people into medical research.

This requires:

  • a flexible career structure
  • porosity between academia and other sectors
  • scope for training and development at all career stages.

Background to this fellowship opportunity

To complement MRC’s existing initiatives in advanced therapies, for example, NATA and UKRMP, there is now an opportunity to pilot an MRC-industry postdoctoral fellowship initiative with AstraZeneca, specifically focused on the shared research priorities of cell and oligonucleotide therapies.

The proposed initial scale of the scheme is support for 10 postdoctoral fellowships of three years’ duration, with a total budget of £4 million. Funding will support academically-led basic studies focused on research that underpins the development of new cell and oligonucleotide therapies.

Additional benefits to the training and career development of funded fellows include:

  • secondments to AZ
  • an industrial scientist mentor
  • access to the AZ PDRA global cohort
  • access to AZ training.

This scheme will:

  • extend the collaborations between AZ and leading UK academic laboratories
  • support cross-sector working
  • contribute to the training and development of future leaders in advanced therapeutics research.

This could lead to:

  • further investment from the commercial sector
  • high-value employment
  • maintaining and growing the UK as a global leader in advanced therapeutics.

Supporting documents

CV template (DOCX, 75B)

Guidance for applicants: research disruption caused by COVID-19 pandemic (section

MRC data management plan template

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