Funding opportunity

Funding opportunity: Molecular and cellular medicine programme

Apply for funding to support a programme of research focused on 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
  • have a record of securing funding and delivering research.

There is no limit to the funding you can apply for. Applicants typically apply for £1 million or more. We will usually fund up to 80% of your project’s full economic cost.

Your programme can last up to five years.

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

Who can apply

You must:

  • be a researcher employed by an eligible research organisation
  • show that you will direct the proposed research yourself and be actively involved in the work
  • have a postgraduate degree, although we expect most applicants to have a PhD or medical degree
  • have a substantial record of securing research funding and delivering high-quality research
  • focus your application within the science area of molecular and cellular medicine.

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

You can also include international co-investigators if they provide expertise that is 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.

You can find contact details for programme managers in our information on molecular and cellular medicine research.

A principal investigator can usually hold only one programme grant at a time.

Who is not eligible

You are not eligible to apply for a programme grant if you lead a programme at an:

  • MRC institute
  • MRC partnership institute
  • MRC unit.

What we're looking for

We’re looking to provide funding to support a programme of research focused on molecular and cellular medicine.

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.

We’re looking to fund research in areas including, but not limited to:

  • 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 MCMB remit, such as nanotechnology, chemical biology and synthetic biology
  • medical bioinformatics (including biostatistics, computational biology and systems biology)
  • cancer
  • toxicology and adverse health effects of environmental exposures
  • pharmacology.

Browse MRC’s areas of investment and support.

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 we may decide to transfer it there to be assessed.

We define a programme as a coordinated and coherent group of related projects. You may develop these projects to address an interrelated set of questions across a broad scientific area.

We do not expect you to find answers to all questions within the duration of the grant. Parts of the programme may be a continuation of current activity, but we expect other elements to be innovative and ambitious.

Programmes are a large investment for the MRC, so we expect you to show how your application fits within the MRC strategy.

What we will fund

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 co-investigators
  • support for other posts such as research and technical
  • research consumables
  • equipment
  • travel costs
  • data preservation, data sharing and dissemination costs
  • estates and indirect costs.

We will not fund:

  • research involving randomised trials of clinical treatments
  • funding to use as a ‘bridge’ between grants
  • costs for PhD studentships
  • publication costs.

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: new programmes

The standard of applications for programme grants is very competitive. You must contact the relevant programme manager before you apply to check if your proposal is suitable. You must do this at least six weeks before the deadline.

You should email the programme manager, attaching a brief description of your proposal. The document should be no more than two sides of A4, plus one A4 side of references. The document should include:

  • the title of the potential programme
  • a list of the principal investigator and co-investigators and their affiliations
  • a list of collaborators (if known at this stage)
  • an estimate of the likely cost to the MRC.

You should address the strategic fit and suitability of your programme for a major investment. You should also answer the following questions on the suitability of your proposal for a programme grant:

  • is the proposed work a programme (a coordinated and coherent group of related projects to answer an interrelated set of questions)?
  • does the work need long-term and extensive support?
  • is the proposed work in an MRC area of high strategic priority?
  • is there a case for a major investment in the context of the board portfolio and budget?
  • do you have a track record that shows you have the potential to successfully manage and deliver a major research programme?

It is important that you clearly state your aims, but we do not expect this initial document to contain detailed research proposals.

You must also attach:

  • a CV (no more than two sides of A4)
  • a list of publications for the principal investigator and co-investigators (one side of A4 only)
  • a summary of the principal investigator’s funding history. We will assess your track record of research and potential to manage and deliver a major research programme.

Full application stage: new programmes and renewals

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 system (Je-S). We will invite you to do this in advance of the relevant closing date if you have been successful at the pre-application stage.

If you are submitting a new application, you should include a cover letter confirming the name of the programme manager who agreed that you could apply. If you are applying to renew your grant, the cover letter should include details of the original grant.

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

Applying through Je-S

You must apply through the Joint Electronic Submission (Je-S) system.

For more information, please read the Je-S how to apply guidance (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 programme 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 ‘programme grant’ option and select the ‘save’ button.

What to include with your application

In addition to the Je-S application, you will also need to include the following mandatory attachments:

  • a CV for each named researcher, including investigators and named researchers. Each CV should be no more than two sides of A4
  • publications (up to one side of A4 per named person)
  • a case for support (which must not exceed 12 sides of A4)
  • a justification of resources. Should be no more than two sides of A4
  • a 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
  • covering letter, this can be up to two sides of A4 using a sans-serif typeface (Arial or equivalent) and font size of 11pt.

If your research includes excess treatment costs of studies involving human participants, you will need to include a ‘schedule of events cost attribution template’ (SoECAT). For details and access to the SoECAT form, see the National Institute for Health and Care Research’s information on excess treatment costs.

If there will be a researcher co-investigator on your project you will need to include a statement of support for researcher co-investigators. This should be no more than two sides of A4 or equivalent on headed paper or a PDF of an email.

Optional attachments include:

  • letters of support, each letter can be up to two sides of A4 or equivalent on headed paper or a PDF of an email.

You can find full details of what to include in mandatory and optional attachments in section 2.2 attachments guidance.

Guidance for applicants

The MRC guidance for applicants:

  • helps you check your eligibility
  • guides you through preparing a proposal
  • shows you how to prepare a case for support
  • provides details of any ethical and regulatory requirements that may apply.

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.

Case for support

It is mandatory to submit a case for support along with your full proposal application.

The list below covers specific points that you should address when writing your case for support. It also provides details of what reviewers and research board members are looking for.

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

You must cover the following in your case for support:

Importance

You should:

  • state the aims of the programme
  • justify why you cannot fund the programme in other ways
  • explain why it is appropriate to establish a programme in this scientific area
  • explain how establishing a programme will help increase your productivity and create added value
  • show the significance of the programme for this area or areas of research
  • explain how the programme will improve the UK’s international standing in this area.

Scientific potential

You should provide details of the participants in the programme and any existing funding, including:

  • a brief report on the progress of your recent research and any preliminary data relevant to the programme
  • the scale of support provided, briefly describing, for instance:
    • the number of postdoctorates or technicians supported
    • the total amount of consumables and equipment provided over the course of the grant
  • information about the research environment, including:
    • the environment or environments in which the programme will take place
    • if the proposal is for shared equipment or expertise, where this will be and how the host organisation will support it. Also describe the management arrangements for ensuring equity of access
    • the host research organisation’s support for the programme
  • research plans, including:
    • details of the general experimental approaches, study designs and techniques that you will use. You do not need to describe each experiment, but give enough detail to show why the research is likely to be competitive in its field. For example:
      • highlight plans which are particularly original or unique
      • describe all foreseeable human studies and animal experiments (in as much detail as possible at this stage)
      • explain in greater detail how you will approach new techniques, or particularly difficult or risky studies, and alternative approaches if these fail
      • identify facilities or resources you will need to access
    • sufficient detail to justify the resources requested.

Ethics and research governance

You must follow the ethics and research governance guidance in the MRC attachments: case for support general guidance (section 2.2.3).

Exploitation and dissemination

You must follow the exploitation and dissemination guidance in the MRC attachments: case for support general guidance (section 2.2.3).

Management

Provide a simple explanation of how you will manage the programme.

Programme grant renewals: additional requirements

You must provide a progress report with an application for renewal. You should attach this as a PDF file to your Je-S application as a ‘final interim report’ attachment type.

You must use the following set of headings:

  • title
  • summary (not exceeding 250 words)
  • progress (no more than five sides of A4). Use this to:
    • describe progress made against original aims and objectives since the grant was awarded or since the last report
    • any unpublished data must be included in the case for support.

Along with the progress report you should provide:

  • a list of publications arising from this work, including web links to online papers
  • a list of staff employed on the grant up to the current date.

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

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.