Funding opportunity

Funding opportunity: Research consortia to underpin proactive vaccinology

Apply for funding to establish research consortia to underpin proactive vaccinology.

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
  • propose a project that fits the remit of the funding opportunity

The funding limit is £8 million per consortium. We will usually fund up to 80% of your project’s full economic cost (following full economic costing principles).

Funding will last up to 5 years.

Who can apply

One UK principal investigator must act as the lead applicant. The consortium lead applicant must:

Check if you are eligible for research and innovation funding.

We expect the number of UK-based co-investigators to be appropriate for the delivery of the consortium’s objectives. Co-investigators are expected to make major intellectual contributions towards the design and conduct of the project.

Overseas co-investigators are allowed if they provide expertise or access to facilities or resources not available in the UK. You should contact the MRC (vaccinology2@mrc.ukri.org) before submission for pre-approval of overseas co-investigators and should ensure they have active Je-S accounts before submission.

You may be the lead investigator on only 1 application to this funding opportunity. Other consortium members may be involved in any number of applications provided they have the capacity to meet these commitments.

Applications from groupings of researchers from multiple disciplines, institutions and research interests are strongly encouraged.

All consortia must remain open to new members, partnerships and collaborations if funded and must ensure that data and samples, where practical, are made available to other researchers.

In addition to co-investigators, applications can include project partners. These are third-party collaborators based in different organisations or in industry, who provide specific in cash or in-kind contributions. Collaborations between academics and industry partners are encouraged and you are advised to refer to the information published within the MRC Industry collaboration framework (ICF) to decide if you should submit your application under the ICF.

Diversity is one of the core MRC values and we are committed to creating inclusive environments that encourage excellence in scientific research through good equalities practice. We strongly encourage applications from currently underrepresented groups including female and ethnic minority researchers, and researchers with disabilities or long-term conditions. We expect consortia and their management to be diverse, both in terms of their expertise and institutional representation, as well as including those of different career stages and protected characteristics.

Who cannot apply

Researchers who are not based at UK institutions are not eligible to lead an application for this opportunity but can be part of the wider membership of the consortia.

Researchers who do not have a contract of employment with an eligible research organisation that will outlast the award cannot apply as lead or co-investigator. Researchers who will be providing significant intellectual input to the project but are not eligible to apply as the lead or co-investigator may be included under the researcher co-investigator status.

Research proposals that are led by commercial entities are not eligible.

What we're looking for

Vaccines are one of our most powerful tools in the fight against infectious disease, as abundantly demonstrated in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, where vaccination has offered good protection against severe disease. Despite these successes, there remains a critical need for fundamental research to underpin future vaccine development. With SARS-CoV-2, there is clear evidence of waning protection against infection from first-generation vaccines, driving the emergence of new variants capable of further escaping existing immunity.

More broadly, key questions remain unanswered about the nature and drivers of pathogen evolution and immune responses to vaccination. Without this knowledge, we cannot overcome the barriers to development of next-generation vaccines with broader, more durable and, optimally, transmission-blocking efficacy.

With this in mind, the purpose of this funding opportunity is to support consortia to tackle these questions. The funding available will support the creation of at least 2 consortia, each funded for up to 5 years. They will each focus on 1 of 2 complementary themes listed below and are each expected to deliver a coordinated portfolio of innovative discovery research, aligned to an ambitious vision and a robust, clearly articulated governance structure.

1. Fundamental virology: drivers and impact of variant emergence

Viral evolution can have enormous effects on public health by changing pathogen virulence, transmissibility and immune evasion.

Building understanding of the factors that drive variant emergence, alongside understanding of the phenotypic consequences of changes to viral genomes, therefore offers a compelling opportunity for impactful research to inform future public health strategies and translational development programmes.

Key research areas of focus for the consortium may include, for example:

  • mechanisms underpinning changes in disease transmission and immune escape
  • predicting disease severity from virus mutation profiles
  • understanding mutation accumulation in targeted immunosuppressed groups to predict evolution
  • assessing viral antigen stability and functionality

Medium-term outputs should aim for:

  • deep mapping and understanding of viral structures, antigen stability and functionality
  • in the context of SAS-CoV-2, enhanced capacity to rapidly identify potentially harmful new variants as they arise and to predict potential dangers in advance

2. Underpinning immunology to support vaccinology

Understanding the immunological response to vaccination and disease is needed to focus vaccine development on those pathways most tractable for sustained immunity.

In the context of SARS-CoV-2 (and other respiratory pathogens), improving the breadth, duration and site of action of immune responses, particularly in the upper airways, is vital to restrict disease transmission and deliver long-term pathogen control.

Key research areas of focus for the consortium may include, for example:

  • understanding the drivers of sustained and broad immunity
  • targeting mucosal responses
  • improving the breadth of protective immunological responses
  • development of reliable correlates of protection to support early vaccine development
  • building understanding of the mechanisms of partial or failed vaccine responses in vulnerable patient groups

Medium-term outputs should aim for:

  • enriched understanding of immune responses and clinical risk factors
  • enhanced capability to support, amplify and explain immunophenotyping work
  • novel tools and platforms to underpin future vaccine development

Across both consortia, in the longer term, we aim to:

  • enable next-generation pan-coronavirus vaccines
  • establish networks of virologists and immunologists with capacity and tools to rapidly investigate emergent pathogens
  • build strong, bidirectional links with vaccine, therapeutic and diagnostic developers

We expect that the consortia will initially focus on SARS-CoV-2, levering the substantial investment and remaining public health need around COVID-19, with a clear pathway to diversify their focus in the longer term to addressing a broader range of other important pathogens.

Although applications should focus on 1 of the 2 themes, we acknowledge that there may be overlapping areas of interest. In particular, virology consortia may appropriately include a substantial immunology component, for example evaluating the impact of host immune responses on viral evolution.

In contrast, an immunology consortium should focus instead on the underpinning immunology of responses to vaccination and infection, seeking to elucidate fundamental immunological pathways within the host.

We are looking for applications proposing coordinated, multidisciplinary consortia with strong links to public health infrastructure, other UK Research and Innovation investments, industry partners and vaccine development resources. Please note that we expect successful applicants to start their awards no later than September 2023.

Note: The introductory talks and question and answer session from our proactive vaccinology workshop (held on 22 September 2022) were recorded. You can request the link to the recording by emailing vaccinology2@mrc.ukri.org

To facilitate the identification of potential collaborators to include in your application, we are collating contact details and a description of your expertise onto a secure document that can be accessed upon request. If you would like your information to be added onto the list (and wish to have visibility of the document), please send an email to the same address.

We are expecting proposals that fall into the remits of the Infections and Immunity Board or Experimental Medicine Panel but at a scale and breadth which could not be supported by the usual research grant or programme grant funding.

Proposals seeking funding for the development of new vaccine candidates are not eligible for this opportunity. These projects may fall within the remit of the Developmental Pathway Funding Scheme.

What we will fund

The limit to the funding you can apply for is £8 million. We will usually fund up to 80% of your project’s full economic cost (following full economic costing principles).

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 researchers, technical staff or project managers
  • 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 or patent costs

How to apply

You must first submit an expression of interest (EoI) application. Please note that the selected theme for the consortium proposed must be specified in the form. The purpose of the EoI stage is to ascertain whether the aims of the consortium are within remit and whether the research plans are of appropriate scale for consideration through the initiative. We do not expect the list of researchers included in the EoI to be final, but it should be indicative of the size of the group and the available expertise.

Applicants whose EoI are confirmed to be within remit will receive confirmation via email by 21 November 2022 and will be invited to submit a full application through the Joint Electronic Submissions (Je-S) website. The deadline for submitting full applications is 25 January 2023.

Please note that we do not expect more than one application per lead researcher, and we encourage applicants to focus on application quality, not on the number you can submit or participate on.

Please note that the funding decisions will not be open to appeal and that the MRC reserves the right to amend the application process.

Expression of interest stage

The first stage of the application process is to submit an EoI application. You should complete the proactive vaccinology consortia EoI form (DOCX, 268KB). This should be submitted as a PDF with a figure summarising your proposed governance framework to vaccinology2@mrc.ukri.org by midday on 14 November 2022.

The EoI applications will be assessed by MRC and applications identified as being at the appropriate scale and within remit will be invited forwards to submit a full application. Lead applicants will be informed of their EoI outcomes via email by 28 November 2022.

Full application stage

Only applicants who have been invited to the full application stage should submit applications. Unsolicited applications may be rejected prior to peer review.

Invited applicants will be required to complete a bespoke case for support form, which they will receive attached to their confirmation emails.

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 relevant closing date if you have been successful at the expression of interest stage.

Your host organisation’s administration is required to complete the full Je-S application submission process. You should give your administrative department sufficient notice that you intend to apply, and you should ensure you and your co-applicants have an active Je-S account well in advance of the deadline. For more information, please read the Je-S how to apply guidance (PDF, 191KB).

When preparing your full application, you should read the MRC general guidance on how to complete an MRC application (section 2).

MRC must receive your full application by 25 January 2023 at 4pm UK time. You will not be able to apply after this time.

Please leave enough time for your proposal to pass through your organisation’s Je-S submission route before this date.

How we will assess your application

Expression of interest stage

Expression of interest (EoI) applications will be considered by MRC. Applications must be within the remit areas described in the ‘what we are looking for’ section and should focus on one of the 2 consortia themes listed.

MRC will also assess the scale of the vision, objectives and programmes of work for the proposed consortia. We expect applications to be ambitious, coherent groups of related projects, with the value of the coordinated activities from across the consortia members to be greater than the sum of the individual project parts.

Proposals that do not fit the remit or scope for this funding opportunity and could be funded through the standing MRC funding boards and panels will not be invited forwards, and programme managers will discuss with applicants the most appropriate routes to seek funding for their project.

Full application stage

When we receive your full application, it will be peer reviewed by independent experts from the UK and overseas.

You can nominate up to 3 independent reviewers. We will invite only 1 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?

We will give you the chance to respond to the reviewers’ comments.

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

Full applications will be reviewed by members of both the MRC Infections and Immunity Board and the MRC Experimental Medicine Panel. Members will consider the application, the reviewers’ comments and applicants’ response to these. They will discuss the application and make a decision in June 2023.

Applications will be assessed against the following criteria:

  • vision for the consortium: does the application articulate a clear mission statement, moving beyond existing capabilities? Does the consortium offer a clear pathway to prioritise and address key knowledge gaps? Does the bid illustrate how the requested funding will achieve this? Does the bid make a compelling case for impact within and beyond the 5-year funding window? Do the plans illustrate how the consortium will align with other relevant investments across business, the NHS and academia? Does the consortium have a strategy for capacity strengthening impact beyond the funding period? Does the application propose an ambitious and integrated multi-institutional approach? Do the plans lay out a vision for long-term sustainability?
  • track record: do the proposed consortium leaders have experience managing large, strategic investments? Are the consortium partners positioned at the leading edge of research in their respective fields
  • partnerships supporting the proposed consortia: how does the proposed consortium link to, and gain support from, existing infrastructure? Does the application demonstrate open, constructive partnerships between consortium members? Are diverse partnerships being leveraged to maximise the impact of funding? Are all partners making a significant contribution? Does the consortium demonstrate that the plans draw on the best of the UK landscape, alongside a vision for openness to new collaborations?
  • governance: have appropriate governance structures for the consortium been laid out in the application? How will the consortium ensure that resources are flexibly and transparently managed in response to the landscape, in a sustainable and appropriate way? Have all appropriate risks been identified alongside mitigation plans? Does the application include appropriate project management costs and expertise? Does the application include clear objectives and metrics to demonstrate progress? Are all costs well justified?

Contact details

Ask questions about this funding opportunity or about your planned application

Email: vaccinology2@mrc.ukri.org

Get help with applying through Je-S

For queries about submitting your full 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: researchfundingpolicyanddelivery@mrc.ukri.org

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