Funding opportunity

Funding opportunity: Molecular and cellular medicine partnership

Apply for funding to support new partnerships between diverse groups of researchers in molecular and cellular medicine.

You must:

  • be a researcher employed by a research organisation eligible to apply for MRC funding
  • have at least a postgraduate degree.

The grant will allow you to:

  • establish new, high-value collaborative activities or capabilities
  • add value to high-quality scientific programmes that are already supported by grants from MRC and other funders.

Funding is available for between one and five years.

This is an ongoing scheme. Application rounds close every January, May and September.

Who can apply

You must:

  • be looking to create a novel partnership between a diverse group of researchers
  • have plans to establish new, high value collaborative activities or capabilities that should add value to high-quality scientific programmes that are already supported by grants from the MRC and other funders
  • be a researcher employed by an eligible research organisation
  • have a postgraduate degree, although we expect most applicants to have a PhD or medical degree
  • be able to show that you will direct the proposed partnership and be actively engaged in the work
  • show that you will be able to manage the funding awarded on behalf of MRC, to ensure that the objectives of the partnership are fully delivered
  • ensure that researchers invited to participate as co-investigators contribute to the academic leadership of the partnership
  • focus your application within the science area of molecular and cellular medicine.

You can also apply, if you are a researcher based within an MRC unit.

Who isn’t eligible to apply

You cannot apply for a partnership grant if you are:

  • looking for funding for a standalone, hypothesis-driven research project that may otherwise be eligible for MRC research or programme grant type funding
  • based within an MRC institute. However, members of MRC institutes can apply as co-investigators on partnership grants.

Industry and international involvement

You are encouraged to include one or more industry partners as project partners in your application.

International co-investigators can be included if they provide expertise not available in the UK.  Inclusion of an international co-investigator must be discussed and agreed with the relevant programme manager in advance of the application submission (see the ‘contact’ section).

What we're looking for

We are looking to fund new partnerships between diverse groups of researchers in molecular and cellular medicine.

We fund partnerships working to transform our understanding of molecular and cellular medicine. Partnership grants are expected to support these research areas, although research itself is not supported through this route.

Please see our case studies for examples of successful partnership grants and why they were funded by MRC.

The molecular and cellular medicine board (MCMB) funds research into basic biological mechanisms or technologies relevant to human health and disease.

We aim to increase understanding of:

  • the structure and function of molecules and complexes
  • the cellular environment during development and mature states
  • how biological systems respond to challenges (for example, drugs and toxins) and diseases.

We lead MRC’s investments in cancer, from fundamental discovery science to epidemiology, experimental medicine and early translation.

Research focused on specific organ systems or diseases (with the exception of cancer and haematology) is normally supported through our other research boards.

Partnerships we fund include, but are not limited to, the following areas:

  • cell biology
  • structural biology and biophysics
  • molecular and functional genetics, epigenetics, genomics
  • developmental and stem cell biology (excluding neurobiology)
  • regenerative medicine
  • molecular haematology
  • development of new tools and technologies relevant to the MCMB remit, such as:
    • nanotechnology
    • chemical biology
    • synthetic biology
  • medical bioinformatics, including:
    • biostatistics
    • computational biology
    • systems biology
  • cancer
  • toxicology and adverse health effects of environmental exposures
  • pharmacology.

Find out more about the molecular and cellular medicine challenges identified by the board.

We encourage you to contact us first to discuss your application, especially if you believe your research may cross MRC research board or research council interests. If your application fits another research board remit better then we may decide to transfer it there to be assessed.

What we will fund

We will fund partnerships between diverse groups of researchers. These partnerships must:

  • establish new, high-value collaborative activities or capabilities
  • add value to high-quality scientific programmes that are already supported by grants from MRC and other funders.

We will fund 80% of the full economic costs of your project. You can request funding for costs such as:

  • a contribution to the salary of the principal investigator and key co-investigators
  • technician posts
  • consumables
  • equipment
  • travel costs
  • international collaboration
  • data preservation, data sharing and dissemination costs
  • estates or indirect costs.

Postdoctoral research positions may only be supported in exceptional cases.

What we will not fund

We will not fund stand-alone, hypothesis-driven research projects that are eligible for MRC research or programme grant funding.

We will not fund:

  • stand-alone hypothesis-driven research projects
  • funding to use as a ‘bridge’ between grants
  • publication costs.

Types of collaboration

Collaborative activities can include:

  • networking and partnership activities to:
    • establish multidisciplinary collaborative partnerships or consortia
    • foster and enabling a national or international strategy in this area
    • enable knowledge sharing or creation across institutions
  • infrastructure support for establishing a unique shared resource or helping to exploit it, for example:
    • staff
    • systems
    • equipment
    • seminars
    • workshops
  • activities such as specialist data and software platforms or resources.

We may support small scale, pump-priming projects, but your focus should not be on specific research questions. These should be interdisciplinary, high-risk and high-gain projects that would exemplify your partnership’s novel capability.

Successful partnership grants usually include a combination of these components. We will reject applications for funding-only networking activities.

We expect partnership grants to reach maturity by the end of the initial award. You should find alternative ways of funding any follow-on activities.

Resource requests will vary between partnerships so we advise you to discuss this with the relevant MRC programme manager before you apply. Visit the ‘contact’ section of our molecular and cellular medicine information to find the relevant person to help you.

Investigators’ salaries

If you are asking for funding to cover investigator time, you must:

  • detail each named investigator’s input
  • justify why the partnership needs this time commitment.

Usually we will fund only the principal investigator and a small number of co-investigators. Other co-investigators may be involved without funding. We do not expect to fund project partners for participating in the partnership.

Research costs

You should request minimum resources for research. For example, we will support postdoctoral research positions only in exceptional cases. We may support technical posts if you can justify them.

You may use a partnership grant to buy equipment. You can also use it to cover the cost of essential infrastructure or to provide a platform for partnership activities.

We will fund the cost of working at an overseas research organisation if international collaboration is important to the success of your partnership. You must discuss this with the programme manager before you apply.

How to apply

You can submit to any one of the available deadlines in the year.

We do not expect you to submit more than two applications at the same time. We encourage you to focus on application quality, not the number you can submit. Read our guidance for applicants about multiple applications.

Pre-application stage

You must contact the relevant programme manager at least six weeks before you apply for a partnership grant. You must provide a brief abstract of your application to help them decide if it is eligible.

After we have received your abstract, the programme manager will give you advice on how best to develop your application. They will also ask you to email a pre-application summary. 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
    • how these activities 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.

Those who are successful at the pre-application stage will be asked to complete a full application.

Full application stage

You should only start the full application stage if you have been invited by email to do so after the pre-application stage.

Full applications must be submitted using our online Joint Electronic Submission (Je-S) system. We will invite you to do this in advance of the closing date if you have been successful at the pre-application stage.

You should read the general guidance on how to complete an MRC application (section 2).

Applying through Je-S

You must apply through the Je-S system.

For more information, please read our information about how to apply for a partnership grant (PDF, 190KB).

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.

When applying, select ‘new document’ then:

  • council: MRC
  • document type: standard proposal
  • scheme: research grant
  • call/type/mode: Research boards Jan 2023 submissions.

After completing the application, you must select ‘submit document’. This will send your application to your host organisation’s administration

Your host organisation’s administration is required to complete the submission process. You should allow sufficient time for this between submitting your proposal to them and the funding opportunity closing date.

You should give your administrative department sufficient notice that you intend to apply.

Your organisation must submit your application before 16:00 on the deadline date.

Indicate that the proposal is a partnership grant

Select the ‘grant type’ option from the proposal document menu, within the Je-S proposal form. Within the section, select the radio button adjacent to the ‘partnership grant’ option and select the ‘save’ button.

Industrial partner information

If you want to include one or more industry partners as a project partner, you must also complete the project partner section in Je-S.

MRC industry collaboration framework

If your application involves the collaboration of one or more industrial partners, you should review the information published within the MRC industry collaboration framework (ICF) to decide if you should submit your application under the ICF.

After reading the ICF information, if you decide that your application will include industry collaboration, you will need to include the following within your application for each collaborating industry partner:

The completed ICF form should be uploaded to the Je-S attachments section using the ‘MICA form’ document type. Please type ‘Industry Collaboration Framework form’ in the description box.

The company letter of support must use the available template and be uploaded to the relevant project partner entry you are required to add to your Je-S application.

Other documents to submit

In addition to the Je-S application, at the full proposal stage you must also submit a:

  • cover letter
  • case for support
  • a CV for each named researcher, including investigators and named researchers. Each CV should be no more than two sides of A4
  • list of publications (up to one side of A4 per named person)
  • data management plan. (DMP). Page length can vary, see section 2.2.7 of our attachments guidance. Applicants must use the available DMP template form
  • justification of resources. Should be no more than two sides of A4.

You should read the above list, in conjunction with the MRC case for support general guidance (section 2.2.3).

Cover letter

Your application should include a cover letter confirming the name of the programme manager who agreed you could apply.

Case for support

The list below covers specific points that you should address when writing your case for support. You must make sure that your application answers all these questions.

You should read the list, in conjunction with the MRC case for support general guidance (section 2.2.3).

You must include the following in your case for support:

Importance

State the aims of the partnership. Explain:

  • why establishing a partnership is necessary for this area of research
  • how establishing a partnership will add value to current research, for example creating new capabilities or enhancing coordination
  • why you cannot access support for the partnership through other means
  • how a partnership will improve the UK’s international standing in this area.
Partnership plans

Describe the activities associated with the partnership, including timelines and indicating where activities may be concurrent. You may include a Gantt chart to depict this.

For any infrastructure or equipment requests, state how you will use this to further the aims and objectives of the partnership.

If you are requesting funding for an infrastructure project in one university but providing a service to the wider research community, you should make this clear in your application.

You should outline future plans for:

  • sustaining the partnership beyond the proposed duration of MRC funding
  • accessing further funding (from MRC and elsewhere) to support any follow-on hypothesis-driven research, which may develop as a result of the partnership.
Participants in the partnership and existing funding

You should describe:

  • how the partnership grant will enable researchers to work together and how it will build capability in a strategic area, for example partnerships that bring together researchers who otherwise would not work together. There should be clear discrimination between the work of co-investigators and partners or collaborators
  • how the partnership between the participants will benefit the wider research community.

You should also:

  • justify why each of the named investigators is necessary for the partnership, including their level of time commitment.
  • provide a brief report on the progress of recent research for investigators in the partnership including an acknowledgement of any previous or current MRC funding and progress to date on delivery of this research.
  • justify the scale of support provided, for example, the number of post doctorates or technicians, and total amount of consumables and equipment.
Environment

Describe:

  • the environment in which the partnership will take place
  • the support the partnership will receive from the host research organisation, for example, reducing or waiving co-investigator salary, associated estates costs and other in-kind contributions such as towards the cost of equipment.

If your proposal requests shared equipment, describe where this will be and how the host research organisation will support this equipment. Describe the management arrangements for ensuring equity of access.

Management

Provide an overview of how you will manage the partnership. For example, who will bring coherence and management to the partnership and how? Outline any plans for:

  • regular meetings
  • bringing together disparate communities
  • a strategy for the set-up of networks
  • arrangements for access and upkeep of equipment.

While networking or workshop activities can add value to a partnership, we will not accept applications centred only on these types of activities.

Research disruption caused by COVID-19 pandemic

You have the option to include a one page annex to the case for support, allowing you to provide additional information explaining any disruptions you have encountered to previous or current research, caused by the COVID-19 pandemic (where relevant to your pending application).

For further information relating to the annex, please see the MRC guidance for applicants (section 2.2.3.6).

How we will assess your application

When we receive your application, it will 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:

Importance

We will assess the importance of the questions, or gaps in knowledge, that are being addressed.

Scientific potential

We will assess what the prospects are for good scientific progress.

Resources requested

We will consider whether the:

  • funds requested are essential for the work
  • importance and scientific potential justify funding on the scale requested
  • proposal represents good value for money.

For more information about our assessment criteria, read our detailed assessment criteria.

Making the final decision

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.

The board will then discuss your proposal 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 advice on developing your application

Contact the relevant MRC programme manager.

Ask which science area you should apply to

Contact the relevant MRC programme manager.

Ask another question about your application

You can email the MCMB admin team if you’re not sure who you should contact, want to ask another question about your application, or have a general enquiry.

Email: mcmb@mrc.ukri.org

Get help with applying through Je-S

For queries about submitting your application using Je-S.

Email

jeshelp@je-s.ukri.org

Telephone

01793 444164

Opening times

Je-S helpdesk opening times

Ask about MRC policy and eligibility

Get in touch with our research funding policy and delivery team.

Email: rfpd@mrc.ukri.org

This is the integrated website of the seven research councils, Research England and Innovate UK.
Let us know if you have feedback or would like to help us test new developments.