Funding opportunity

Funding opportunity: Expressions of interest: National Mouse Genetics Network clusters

Register your interest to either:

  • lead a research cluster as part of the National Mouse Genetics Network
  • be an associate member offering expertise to clusters, or the broader network.

To lead a cluster, you must be at a research organisation eligible for UKRI funding.

Your proposed cluster must:

  • integrate across mouse and human or clinical genetics to address a disease, technology or concept-driven research challenge
  • partner with the Mary Lyon Centre (MLC) at Harwell.

Successful applicants at the expression of interest (EOI) stage may be encouraged to partner with others in preparing a full cluster proposal.

Who can apply

This funding opportunity is open to EOIs from two types of applicants:

  • research cluster leaders
  • associate members.

Research cluster leaders

Lead applicants and their co-applicants in the research cluster must be from eligible UK-based organisations, in accordance with standard UKRI practice.

Each EOI must be submitted by a single researcher leading the challenge, from a lead organisation, but detailing the wider cluster team and their relevant organisations as part of the EOI.

Different individual research leaders from the same institution may submit EOIs. Institutions may also be partners to more than one EOI.

Associate members

UK or non-UK individuals or groups, which can be academic, clinical, industry, regulatory etc., who are seeking to offer key expertise.

These could be valuable to specific clusters, or to the overall network, and in turn gain benefits and added value once the network and clusters are operational.

What we're looking for

The MRC is investing more than £20 million over five years in a major new National Mouse Genetics Network for disease modelling, to accelerate our understanding of human disease.

This will also improve diagnosis and treatments, through driving integration of mouse genetics, cell and tissue systems and deep phenotyping with human or clinical genomics and pathology.

Research clusters

The network will bring together a package of approximately four to six distinctive challenge-led research clusters. These will be funded for five years in the first instance, across the UK and in long-term partnership with the MLC at Harwell.

Research cluster leaders should show that they will direct the proposed research and be actively engaged in carrying it through. Cluster proposals should seek to bring together the right people and expertise to deliver a cluster challenge.

The expectation is that most research clusters will be multi-partner or institute collaborations, reaching across key centres of excellence (not necessarily geographically close to each other).

All clusters will be expected to form a partnership with the MLC, directed by Dr Sara Wells and sited within the Harwell Science and Innovation Campus. Preliminary discussions for potential partnerships, ahead of submitting an EOI, are welcome.

Clusters are intended to be outward facing across the network and other clusters, considering what they might offer to the wider community (for example, areas to consider might be technology, bioinformatics, training etc.).

As appropriate to the challenge, we encourage collaboration across sectors or stakeholders including clinical, academia, industry (for example, pharmaceutical, biomedical, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) etc.) and other partners.

You can also include international partners, if they provide expertise that is not available in the UK.

For further information on the network and clusters, see theAdditional information’ section.

Call scope

Each cluster investment should drive innovative approaches to addressing a research challenge, which could be disease, technology or concept-led. Delivering these through integrating and strengthening links between mouse models and human or clinical genetics, and that add value to the existing portfolio in mouse genetics research.

Challenges could be novel or existing, including those that have thus far been difficult (if not impossible) to address through standard funding routes and research organisation investments.

The clear intention is that this new network investment, and the strong interactivity with the MRC Harwell’s MLC, should better facilitate addressing such challenges. Also forging and underpinning new models, ways of working and added value for the network and beyond.

In turn, the success of individual clusters will be measured by their ability to deliver added value and impact to the network.

Network funding is not intended to reduce or replace existing funding routes for mouse genetics research. In the case of MRC funding, the majority of which should continue through competitive awards, such as research and programme grants delivered via MRC boards and panels.

Expressions of interest

The call is being delivered through a two-step process (see also ‘How to apply’):

  1. EOI gating stage
  2. invitation for full proposals in spring 2021.

The EOI stage is intended to be flexible and inclusive to encourage new ways of working in human or clinically-relevant mouse genetics research, bringing together the necessary expertise to address innovative challenge-led research proposals. EOIs can be from either:

  • research cluster leaders – intending to lead one of the approximately four to six research clusters forming this network
  • associate members – offering relevant expertise to a cluster(s), or the broader network.

Leading a research cluster

EOIs from applicants to lead a research cluster should:

  • articulate high-quality, innovative research challenges that can be disease, technology or concept-driven
  • identify the proposed cluster leader and partners (focusing on the core contributors) to provide a persuasive package of expertise that will drive these ideas to form a strong, viable and sustainable research cluster. It is anticipated that this will normally require multiple research organisations to combine relevant expertise in mouse, human and complementary research
  • as appropriate to the challenge, identify wider membership, including novel partners (scientific, industry, clinical etc.) and stakeholders that could contribute to, and benefit from, the cluster within the network.

Resources

EOIs will not request details on resource, however, applicants should provide a high-level overview of potential types of needs to support proposed challenges. Also, to help inform plans for deployment of resources from the overall investment at the full proposal stage.

Example ways in which funding could be deployed, include:

  • national coordination work
  • mouse model development (including generation of new mouse strains, novel challenge paradigms and preclinical phenotyping)
  • creating and sharing resources (models, methods, tools, technologies, data)
  • pilot work to catalyse further support
  • adding value to existing work
  • additional training, career development and team science.

Joining up cluster proposals

The EOI stage will serve as a key ‘gating’ point ahead of the full proposal stage, to ensure the network achieves impact and provides the optimal coverage (and avoids duplication) and focus to support the wider research community.

Research cluster leader applicants selected through the EOI stage will thus be encouraged to take stock of the ideas within the shortlisted bids and make partnerships or connections where appropriate, potentially leading to evolution of the original submissions.

If your EOI is successfully invited to the full proposal stage, you will be asked to attend a pre-submission workshop in April 2021.

This will be with all participants to have access to summaries of the EOIs (sections 1, 2 and 3.1 in the Research Cluster Leader EOI form) selected at this first stage. Participants will also have access to a list of the EOIs submitted for consideration of associated membership.

We will also publish details of the principle investigator (cluster leader) and the proposal title and summary outlined in your EOI (sections 1.1, 1.2 and 2.1 in the Research Cluster Leader EOI form) following the workshop.

This is to provide a refined set of information to ensure the wider community has a view of the developments.

This activity will be guided by the MRC’s expert review panel (see also ‘How we will assess your application’).

We will require applicants to identify who should be the published contact point, in case of further interested partners.

Associate membership

We recognise that some researchers may wish to engage without directly leading clusters.

‘Associate member’ EOIs are thus also encouraged from groups or individuals who are primarily seeking to offer key expertise. These could be valuable to specific clusters, or to the overall network, and in turn gain benefits once the network and clusters are operational.

As described above, successful research cluster leaders at the EOI stage will be invited to attend a pre-submission workshop in April 2021.

As well as access to summaries of each of their EOIs, all participants will have access to a list of the EOIs submitted for consideration of associated membership.

How to apply

Leading a research cluster

Stage one: EOI

Applicants must read the instructions, complete and return the Research Cluster leader EOI form (Word, 69KB) to MouseGeneticsNetwork@mrc.ukri.org by 16:00 (UK time) 24 March 2021. You must complete all ‘required’ sections of the form for your EOI to be eligible.

Stage two: Full proposal

Shortlisted EOIs will be asked to attend a pre-submission workshop in April 2021, following which guidance on how to make the full proposal submission will be provided.

Full details of the call, including criteria for assessment will be available following the EOI stage. Guidance will also be provided on finances and intellectual property rules for both industry and institutional involvement.

Associate membership

Stage one: EOI

Applicants must complete and return the Associate member – EOI form (Word, 63KB) to MouseGeneticsNetwork@mrc.ukri.org by 16:00 (UK time) on 24 March 2021. You must complete all ‘required’ sections of the form for your EOI to be eligible.

Stage two: Full proposal

Associate membership EOIs will be made available to the director of the network and invited attendees of the pre-submission workshop in April 2021.

As appropriate, workshop attendees will be encouraged to consider the appropriate partnerships to include in preparing full proposal submissions by research cluster leaders and their team.

How we will assess your application

All EOIs will be assessed by a panel of experts against the scope of the network call.

Only EOIs from research cluster leaders deemed to be in scope will be asked to attend the pre-submission workshop in May 2021, in preparation for submitting a full proposal. This will include potential join up with other proposals and associate members, as detailed above.

Full proposals will be externally peer reviewed and assessed in late summer 2021 by a bespoke panel.

Contact details

For further enquiries, please contact MouseGeneticsNetwork@mrc.ukri.org

Additional info

National Mouse Genetics Network

The MRC is investing £20 million in a new National Mouse Genetics Network.

Under the National Director, Professor Owen Sansom‘s leadership, this is being delivered through a UK-wide call to support a nationally distributed network of approximately four to six challenge-led research clusters.

These are all funded over five-years in the first instance (anticipated award start date, March 2022). The mission of the network will be to drive:

  • integration of mouse genetics, cell and tissue systems and deep phenotyping with human or clinical genomics and pathology
  • national partnerships and coordination within and between disease or thematic science areas to help tackle the major challenges and national ambitions in priority disease areas
  • the open science and replacement, reduction and refinement (3Rs) agendas by optimising the production, archiving and availability or sharing of mouse resources and data for national use through the MLC.

All clusters will draw directly from the specialist facilities and capabilities of the MLC (including genome-engineering, phenotyping and animal care) to deliver their science ambitions at Harwell.

The location of the MLC will also provide wider interdisciplinary opportunities for the network, including key investments on the Harwell Science and Innovation Campus.

For example:

  • Rosalind Franklin Institute
  • Nucleic Acid Therapy Accelerator
  • Diamond Light Source, Research Complex at Harwell.

Community workshop

Drawing on recent community engagement, including a workshop for interested researchers, held in November 2020, the director’s vision and plans for the national network have been further developed, including that it will:

  • enable and support development of more refined, targeted and clinically-relevant or complex mouse models to better align mouse and human health or clinical studies
  • generate more sophisticated data-sets from such models to capitalise on recently emerging rich human or clinical data
  • better support current research challenges such as cross-disease working and complex studies
  • underpin the open science agenda and embedding best practice, with sharing of models, tools and data across the network and the wider national community
  • catalyse and enable new beneficial research collaborations with additional academic, clinical and industrial partners
  • form strong interactions with the broader community, beyond the research clusters, including national research institutes
  • provide an internationally visible platform of high-quality clusters, that is expandable and scalable (to introduce additional future clusters to the network); attractive to further complementary investment (for example, other funders or industry or commercial); and sustainable (being open to renewal after the first five-year tranche of funding).

Clusters

The planned structure of the network (see related links) is for a nationally distributed set of approximately four to six research clusters.

Each cluster should be centred around a cluster leader located at a specific UK research organisation that connects to key partners.

This is usually across institutions and organisations, other clusters and the MLC, and the wider UK community to bring together researchers to tackle critical questions related to human disease.

Each cluster investment will drive innovative approaches to addressing a research challenge, which could be disease, technology or concept-led, building on a wider portfolio of relevant research.

All clusters will be expected to form a partnership with the MLC, directed by Dr Sara Wells and sited within the Harwell Science and Innovation Campus.

This is to capitalise on its capabilities to jointly develop activities to address and add value to a given cluster challenge.

Clusters should also build on the substantial existing funding portfolio for national research using mouse models, including the approximately £150 million per annum MRC contribution. Clusters should seek to:

  • tackle major challenges and provide national coordination
  • develop complex new targeted models required for the challenge theme
  • integrate mouse, human and complementary (cell, tissue, in silico, etc.) research
  • drive open science and 3Rs by sharing refined models, tools and data
  • provide a visible platform for industry engagement and stakeholder partnerships.

The total network investment of at least £20 million over the initial five-year funding period will be strategically deployed to support individual cluster activities. It will also support core network funding reaching across all the clusters and the broader national research base.

Clusters are anticipated to vary in scale depending on the challenge-theme but are unlikely to exceed three to four million pounds per cluster over a five-year period, including funds to support partnership with the MLC.

Mary Lyon Centre

The MLC will serve as a hub for the new network (see the network overview in related links) to enable clusters to capitalise on their capabilities.

It will mutually support expansion and development of the network and emerging activities, driven by advances in understanding human genetics. These include:

  • developing and supplying complex mouse models
  • developing and providing advanced phenotyping services
  • open-access and scale-up of new technology discoveries
  • open science agenda including archiving and distribution services
  • the 3Rs agenda, through optimising protocols and dissemination of best practice
  • industry engagement to deliver against needs and opportunities, for example, in the pre-clinical space
  • specialist training, public engagement and policy or regulation.

Partnership activities are anticipated to differ between clusters, tailored to specific needs, for example, drawing upon MLC expertise and facilities to generate new complex models, or detailed phenotyping, or to address specific challenge paradigms.

Network-wide activities

Partnership funding or in-kind contributions are not a pre-requisite for a successful individual research cluster, however a key ambition for the new network is national inclusivity.

There may be opportunities to forge partnerships that bring together the necessary expertise to address the proposed challenge theme and deliver for added value to the network.

These could include with industry (pharmaceutical companies, SMEs, medical technologies etc.), or national institutes and other major investments that provide centres of excellence in specific areas of research or technology.

A key intention of the network is to establish adding value and capitalising on a national infrastructure to support mouse-based research and open science.

This includes data platforms (for example, for improved data access, model refinement reproducibility and reliability) and technical infrastructure (to provide national capability and share methodologies and best practice).

Cluster proposals should consider how they could contribute to this, and what potential data and infrastructure needs could enhance the proposed cluster. For example, if new infrastructure or data platform funding opportunities were to become available.

As appropriate, cluster proposals should also consider opportunities for developing national training capacity, including leveraging the MLC’s capabilities, in particular the new life science training facility Advance (see related links to find out more).

Supporting documents

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