Funding opportunity

Funding opportunity: Artificial intelligence innovation to accelerate health research

Start application

Apply for funding to develop innovative artificial intelligence (AI) technologies to be applied to health challenges.

Proposals from multidisciplinary teams are welcomed within priority areas in AI for health from across the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) remit.

To lead an application, you must be based at a UK research organisation eligible for UKRI funding.

The full economic cost of your project can be up to £750,000 and UKRI will fund 80% of the full economic cost.

Once the funding opportunity opens, you must submit an ‘Intent to submit’ declaration by 28 February 2023 to be able to submit a full proposal.

Projects must start by 1October 2023 and will be funded for 18 months. Projects must end by March 2025 and no further extensions beyond this duration is allowed.

Funding for this opportunity is subject to business case approval by the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) and HM Treasury.

Who can apply

Standard UKRI eligibility rules apply. You must be based at the lead organisation, which should be UK-based at 1 of the following:

  • UK higher education institutions
  • research council institutes
  • UKRI-approved independent research organisations
  • eligible public sector research establishments
  • eligible research and technology organisations
  • NHS bodies with research capacity

Check if your institution is eligible for funding.

We are committed to investing in a diverse and connected portfolio of projects and welcome applications that support regional and national research and innovation agendas.

We welcome collaborations across industry and third sector and expect these to be named as project partners.

Support for international collaboration can be in any research application to UKRI, for research staff to visit or have extended work placements to a partner’s laboratory overseas, including travel, subsistence and consumables.

This is as well as the usual UK-based costs like staff, equipment, UK travel, and subsistence and consumables.

Principal and co-investigators

A principal investigator and any co-investigators must:

  • be employed at a UK research organisation at a level equivalent to lecturer or above (academic or clinical)
  • hold a fixed-term or permanent contract that extends beyond the duration of the proposed project, and the host research organisation is prepared to give you all the support normal for a permanent employee

The leadership team should reflect the breadth of disciplines and sectors involved.

We recognise the diversity of skills necessary for a successful research team and encourage proposals to recognise the contribution and support the careers of technical professionals and early career researchers.

Submissions to this funding opportunity will not count towards the EPSRC repeatedly unsuccessful applicants policy.

Demand management

It is expected that this funding opportunity will be in high demand. As such you may only submit 1 application to this initiative as a principal investigator, but may be involved in more applications, if listed as a co-investigator.

We encourage you to focus your efforts on applications that most closely mirror the needs of the funding opportunity and the strengths of the proposed team.

We will introduce a sift panel stage at the full proposal stage before the prioritisation panel to manage application numbers in the event of high demand.

You must submit an ‘Intent to submit’ declaration by 4:00pm UK time on 28 February 2023.

Information provided as part of the ‘Intent to submit’ will not be formally assessed. We will use this information to:

  • anticipate expected submission levels
  • identify panel members

You will not be able to submit a full application without an ‘Intent to submit’ declaration.

What we're looking for

Objectives

This funding opportunity seeks to develop innovative AI research that can be applied to the most pressing health problems and change how health research is conducted. This programme will endeavour to bring together researchers from multidisciplinary and cross-sectoral teams in order to develop and progress a clear shared research agenda.

We aim to support projects that:

  • will generate real world impact
  • are co-created with stakeholders including but not limited to:
    • AI experts
    • health-related problem holders
    • social scientists
    • data owners
    • end users
    • relevant others (for example, the public, patients, and regulators)

Innovation in AI can tackle a range of health, social, scientific as well as technical issues. For example:

  • use of AI within important or underexplored (from the perspective of AI) areas of health research, or both
  • need for new or improved AI approaches and ways of applying AI in health research
  • understanding and tackling pertinent data issues needed to progress health AI research
  • ensuring AI is fit for use. Addressing issues of responsibility, bias, end user needs, and similar areas by incorporating these approaches, or redesigning existing tools taking into account responsibility, bias, end user needs to ensure they are fit-for-purpose

Projects are expected to:

  • work across the nexus of the challenge spaces rather than solely within 1 area to ensure the benefits of this investment reaches as widely into the UK AI research and innovation landscape as possible
  • comprise of cross-disciplinary teams with:
    • technical knowledge of AI, data science and health and wellbeing
    • those who understand how to develop projects that are trusted and responsible, particularly in respect of personal and protected data
    • inclusion of experts on industry adoption and diffusion of innovation taken into consideration
  • take into consideration how the AI tools developed will act as a platform for future applications in health research. For example underpinning future research, infrastructure, or informing wider health programmes or initiatives

Research scope

You should focus on how the technology or methodologies will be developed. This may include (but is not restricted to):

  • technical development
  • broadening application from outside a new technology’s initial use to health research
  • consideration of responsible AI approaches by design

You must identify a clear health challenge that will be tackled. There are a variety of ways in which AI can play an impactful role in relation to health but where barriers remain in enabling its full impact to be realised, including (but not limited to):

  • the role of AI in integrating and understanding complex determinants of health. Examples include tackling inverse problems by integrating complex omics, healthcare, environment, lifestyle, biosocial and other datasets to generate novel insights. This could be applied to:
    • address health inequalities
    • establish biomarkers of health and predict resilience to health conditions across the lifespan
    • develop in silico models for One Health to predict emergence of zoonotic diseases
  • addressing limitations of AI in dealing with incomplete or small health datasets. Examples include:
    • the potential strategies for synthetic data to complement ‘real world’ health data in clinical trials while maintaining public trust
    • use of AI to parameterise interpretable models allowing mechanistic inference
    • AI to uncover complex interactions within very large-scale fragmentary data such as those arising from microbiome research and rare disease research
  • the role and acceptability of AI in decision making in health. Examples include:
    • addressing potential biases, social and practitioner acceptance of use of AI in health
    • embedding human attributes such as empathy, trust and responsible development of AI technologies
  • novel approaches to experimentation. Examples include:
    • automated and adaptive AI-guided research, whereby AI guides the discovery process through design, direction and analysis of high-throughput experiments, both open and closed loop. This could accelerate progress in areas such as fundamental discovery science (for example, functional genomics, anti-microbial resistance)

Remit

The programme is open across all areas that fall within UKRI health remit where the work:

  • has the potential to contribute to improved human health, wellbeing or disease outcomes, including health-related discovery science
  • makes a convincing case for being distinctive within the national landscape and addressing an unmet need
  • involves substantive, and where appropriate innovative, AI approaches to tackling the challenge
  • is cross-disciplinary or cross-sectoral and will benefit from the team-based approach

Attention should be paid to other major AI funding opportunities, in particular from UKRI, to avoid overlap which may reduce appetite for funding through this opportunity.

In addition, it is expected that each project will engage across their AI field as the landscape and a wider portfolio of investments supported by UKRI develops. It is expected that the successful projects will coordinate their activities to form a larger AI for health community network. The network will exchange ideas, challenges and solutions as well as act as a source of strategic intelligence for UKRI.

Leaders of each investment will be expected to represent this community in collaboration with other investments across UKRI.

Funding available

A total of £13 million is available for spend. The maximum value for each award is £750,000.

The award duration will be 18 months. Grants must start latest by 1 October 2023 and must conclude on 31 March 2025. No additional spend can occur beyond this period.

Equipment over £10,000 in value (including VAT) and up to £400,000 is available through this funding opportunity. All equipment should be fully justified and essential to the mission of the investment. Smaller items of equipment (individually under £10,000) should be in the ‘Directly Incurred – Other Costs’ heading. It is expected the majority of the funding will go towards research activities.

This opportunity will follow the EPSRC approach to equipment funding.

Responsible innovation and trusted research

UKRI is fully committed to developing and promoting responsible innovation and trusted research. Research has the ability to not only produce understanding, knowledge and value, but also unintended consequences, questions, ethical dilemmas and, at times, unexpected social transformations.

We recognise that we have a duty of care to promote approaches to responsible innovation that will initiate ongoing reflection about the potential ethical and societal implications of the research that we sponsor. We encourage our research community to do likewise.

In common with other funding for AI across UKRI, this grant will be required to embed principles of responsible innovation and those of trusted research throughout their activities. You will be expected to engage with the relevant regulatory bodies where concerns may arise under the National Security and Investment Act. Aspects of bias, privacy, security and ethics should be considered where appropriate.

Sustainability

UKRI’s environmental sustainability strategy lays out our ambition to actively lead environmental sustainability across our sectors. This includes a vision to ensure that all major investment and funding decisions we make are directly informed by environmental sustainability, recognising environmental benefits as well as potential for environmental harm.

In alignment with this, UKRI is tackling the challenge of environmental sustainability through our ‘building a green future’ strategic theme. This aims to develop whole systems solutions to improve the health of our environment and deliver net zero, securing prosperity across the whole of the UK.

Environmental sustainability is a broad term but may include consideration of such broad areas as:

  • reducing carbon emissions
  • protecting and enhancing the natural environment and biodiversity
  • waste or pollution elimination
  • resource efficiency and a circular economy

UKRI expects its grants to embed careful consideration of environmental sustainability at all stages of the research and innovation process and throughout the lifetime of the grant.

You should ensure that environmental impact and mitigation of the proposed networking, research approaches and operations, as well as the associated project outputs, methodologies developed across science and engineering and outcomes is considered.

Furthermore, opportunities should be sought to influence others and leave a legacy of environmental sustainability within the broader operations of your academic and industry partners.

Equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI)

UKRI is committed to achieving equality of opportunity for all and aims to create an inclusive environment that encourages excellence in scientific research through good equalities practice.

Diversity is one of the core UKRI values, and we are working to ensure that the ways in which we fund embrace a diversity of:

  • thought
  • people
  • geographical locations
  • ideas

There has been a longstanding lack of diversity in the data science and AI sectors, particularly with regard to gender and ethnicity. We strongly encourage applications from under-represented groups.

Read more about our expectations for EDI.

International collaboration

Applicants planning to include international collaborators on their proposal should visit Trusted Research for guidance on getting the most out of international collaboration while protecting intellectual property, sensitive research and personal information.

How to apply

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

You can find advice on completing your application in:

We recommend you start your application early.

Your host organisation will also be able to provide advice and guidance.

Webinar

Prospective applicants are invited to join a webinar on 8 February 2023, 2:00pm to 3:00pm UK time.

Register for the webinar on Zoom.

The webinar will last for an hour. It will begin with a presentation from UKRI and will be followed by an opportunity to ask questions about the funding opportunity.

A recording of the webinar will be made available after the event.

Intention to submit

The ‘Intent to submit’ stage is mandatory. You must submit an ‘Intent to submit’ declaration in order to submit a full application.

Applicants who intend to submit an application to this funding opportunity must complete the following declaration by 4:00pm UK time on 28 February 2023.

Complete the intention to submit form on SmartSurvey.

You will be asked to provide the following information:

  • project title
  • short description of project and key words, for example social science
  • investigator names
  • principal investigator contact information
  • lead UK research organisation
  • indicative budget

You are not required to have finalised all the details of your application by the time the intention to submit is made. We recognise that information provided in the full proposal, including the names of the partners, may differ from the information provided in the intention to submit form.

Information provided as part of the intention to submit will not be formally assessed. We will use this information to help plan the proposal assessment, for example to understand expected submission levels and the spread of applications.

Submitting your application

Before starting an application, you will need to log in or create an account in Je-S.

When applying:

  1. Select ‘documents’, then ‘new document’.
  2. Select ‘call search’.
  3. To find the opportunity, search for: ‘Artificial intelligence innovation to accelerate health research’.

This will populate:

  • council: EPSRC
  • document type: standard proposal
  • scheme: standard
  • call/type/mode: ‘SI AI for health’

Once you have completed your application, make sure you ‘submit document’.

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

Deadline

UKRI must receive your application by 28 March 2023 at 4:00pm 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.

You should ensure you are aware of and follow any internal institutional deadlines that may be in place.

Attachments

You should attach your documents as PDFs to avoid errors. They should be completed in single-spaced Arial 11 font or similar-sized sans serif typeface, with margins of at least 2cm. Arial narrow and Calibri are not allowable font types. UKRI will not accept any other attachment types under this opportunity.

Read our advice on writing proposals for EPSRC funding.

Your application must also include the following attachments:

  • case for support (8 pages, 2 on your track record and 6 on the scientific case)
  • workplan (1 page)
  • justification of resources (2 pages)
  • CVs (up to 2 A4 sides each) for named:
    • postdoctoral staff, researcher co-investigators (research assistants who have made a substantial contribution to the proposal and will be employed on the project for a significant amount of time)
    • visiting researchers
  • letters of support from all project partners included in the Je-S form (no page limit), EPSRC guidance on project partners letter of support
  • technical assessments for facilities listed as requiring one in the Je-S guidance (no page limit)
  • host organisation letter of support (2 pages)
  • data management plan (3 pages)
  • cover letter (optional attachment, no page limit, not seen by peer review)
  • letter of support from research organisation if requesting cost for equipment and:
    • a quote (no page limit) if cost exceeds £25,000
    • a quote and business case (2 pages) if cost exceeds £138,000

Ethical information

UKRI will not fund a project if it believes that there are ethical concerns that have been overlooked or not appropriately accounted for. All relevant parts of the ‘ethical information’ section must be completed.

Guidance on completing ethical information on the Je-S form.

UKRI guidance can be found under ‘additional information’.

How we will assess your application

Assessment process

Intention to submit

Information provided as part of the intention to submit will not be formally assessed. UKRI staff will use this information to:

  • anticipate expected submission levels
  • identify panel members

Full proposals

Applications will not be assessed by postal peer review, instead they will be assessed by an expert panel that will make funding recommendations to UKRI.

Panel members will assess each of the projects and provide a score based on the opportunity specific criteria.

To manage demand, we will hold a sift panel. At the sift panel, applications will be assessed against the opportunity specific criteria. Applications with a low score will be sift rejected.

If you are successful at the sift panel:

  • your application will be assessed at the expert panel meeting against assessment and opportunity specific criteria
  • you will have the opportunity to respond to sift panel comments in advance of the expert panel meeting

A balanced portfolio approach is taken to finalise funding decisions to ensure a suitable breadth of emerging opportunities across the health space are represented, and to avoid duplication of effort within the research base. To enable this, we will initially band proposals at the expert panel based on topic areas and then rank proposals within each topic area by score. Nonetheless, to be awarded within a topic area, proposals will need to meet a minimum fundable quality threshold. We reserve the right to change the process if required.

Assessment criteria

Sift criteria

Fit to opportunity (primary)

This part of the assessment is based on the alignment of the research programme to the aims and objectives of the funding opportunity.

We are looking for applications using innovative, high-quality and leading-edge AI to:

  • address an unmet health need, which includes:
    • the ability of the project to address an important or unexplored area of health research
    • justification for the need for AI technologies to address the health need
  • create impact in health, which includes:
    • evidence that you will ensure the AI developed is fit for use, addressing issues of responsibility, bias and considering end user needs
    • appropriate plans for engagement with stakeholders that will be essential to achieving impact in healthcare, for example patients and the public
  • develop multidisciplinary and cross-sectoral teams, which includes:
    • inclusion of relevant experts from across the remit of UKRI in order to develop and progress a clear shared research agenda. For example, AI experts, health-related problem holders, social scientists, data owners, end users, and relevant others (for example, the public, patients, and regulators)
  • support capacity building for AI in health research, which includes:
    • evidence that the project will enhance opportunities and accelerate future career trajectories for early career researchers and technical specialists or technologists
  • fit to current research landscape within and beyond the project’s own particular research focus area

Expert panel criteria

Quality (primary)

The research excellence of the proposal, that is:

  • the suitability of the approach, relationship to the context, timeliness and relevance to identified stakeholders
  • the ambition, adventure, transformative aspects or potential outcomes of the AI
  • the suitability of the proposed methodology and the appropriateness of the approach to achieving impact
National importance (secondary major)

How the research:

  • contributes to or helps maintain the health of this discipline
  • contributes to addressing key UK societal challenges
  • contributes to future UK economic success and development of emerging industry or industries
  • meets national needs by establishing or maintaining a unique world-leading activity
  • complements other UK research funded in the area
  • plans for dissemination and knowledge exchange with potential beneficiaries of the research
Applicant and partnerships (secondary)

The ability to deliver the proposed project, that is the:

  • appropriateness of your track record
  • balance of skills of the project team, including collaborators
  • engagement with experts outside academia (for example, NHS, third sector, industry), where relevant
Resources and management (secondary)

The effectiveness of the proposed planning and management and whether the requested resources are appropriate and have been fully justified, such as:

  • any equipment requested, or the viability of the arrangements described to access equipment needed for this project, and particularly on any university or third-party contribution
  • any resources requested for activities to either increase impact, for public engagement or to support responsible innovation

Feedback

Feedback will be provided to:

  • applicants who are successful after the sift panel. This feedback will need to be addressed and will form part of the assessment process at the full expert panel
  • all applicants after the full expert panel

Contact details

Get help with developing your proposal

For help and advice on costings and writing your proposal please contact your research office in the first instance, allowing sufficient time for your organisation’s submission process.

Ask about this funding opportunity

EPSRC healthcare technologies team

Email: aiforhealth@ukri.org

Include ‘UKRI AI Call’ in the subject line.

We aim to respond within 3 working days.

Get help with applying through Je-S

Email

jeshelp@je-s.ukri.org

Telephone

01793 444164

Opening times

Je-S helpdesk opening times

Additional info

Background

UKRI AI statement of opportunity

‘AI review: Transforming our world with AI’ sets out UKRI’s aspirations for supporting transformational activities, and for working with our partners to place the UK in a strong position to realise the vast potential benefits of AI.

Read the UKRI AI review: Transforming our world with AI.

AI in health is a rapidly growing and fast evolving sector with major interest from UK government, the NHS and industry, and features in a number of UK strategies. It has significant transformative potential for health across a huge range of areas. However, this will not be possible without significant new AI capabilities and there are still significant barriers in the environment for AI research and innovation such as health data access, storage, and use, understanding societal acceptance of the use of AI in health, and the professional skills to enable this potential. Crucially, the gaps and challenges in different health areas are unique, therefore tailored solutions are needed for a particular context.

AI technologies need to be developed to meet these challenges and will require collaboration between multidisciplinary expertise who can develop suitable solutions and build new capability at the intersection between health (including wider dimensions such as wellbeing), research and AI.

This UKRI programme is anticipated to deliver the following outcomes (amongst others):

  • implementation of AI techniques in a health context, which were developed for other applications
  • development of responsible, ethical or trusted AI approaches for use in a health data science context
  • demonstration of proof of principle or proof of concept for new AI techniques in health
  • building a cohort of researchers with cross-disciplinary and sectoral skills

This programme also aims to provide complementary aspects to other activities within the UKRI and wider UK landscape. Projects should consider how they will connect with and add value to existing investments in the same area, or with other networks and projects active in this space.

Grant additional conditions (GAC)

Grants are awarded under the standard UKRI grant terms and conditions. The following additional grant conditions will also apply.

GAC 1: start date of the grant

Notwithstanding RGC 5.2 Starting Procedures, this grant must start by 1 May 2023. No slippage of start date beyond 1 May 2023 will be permitted. Expenditure may be incurred prior to the start of the grant and be subsequently charged to the grant, provided that it does not precede the date of the offer letter.

GAC 2: grant extensions

No slippage or grant extensions (beyond exceptional circumstances in line with the Equality Act 2010) will be allowed. UKRI will not be responsible for any cost overrun incurred during the course of this grant. The research organisation or organisations will be required to make up any shortfall from alternative sources.

GAC 3: naming and branding

In addition to RGC 12.4 Publication and Acknowledgement of Support, you must make reference to UKRI funding. You should include the UKRI logo and relevant branding on all online or printed materials (including press releases, posters, exhibition materials and other publications) related to activities funded by this grant.

GAC 4: monitoring and reporting

In addition to the requirements set out in the standard UKRI grant condition RGC 7.4.3, the grant holder is responsible for providing progress reports and monitoring data (financial and non-financial) when requested by UKRI.

UKRI expects that the frequency of financial returns will be twice a year but reserves the right to request returns more or less often as appropriate to respond to changes in business needs. A template and guidance to complete this will be provided by UKRI in due course.

As part of the management process, the grant holder will be expected to produce an annual report detailing progress against their stated aims and objectives and should highlight any key impacts or success stories.

UKRI reserves the right to suspend the grant and withhold further payments if the performance metrics requested are not provided by the stated deadlines or are determined to be of an unacceptable standard by EPSRC.

GAC 5: expenditure

At the start of the grant the financial spend profile will be agreed by UKRI.

In addition to any reporting requirements set out in GAC 8, the grant holder must immediately notify the UKRI project officer, or officers, in writing of any accumulation, slippage or variation in expenditure greater than 5% of the annual profiled funding.

Any such changes must be approved in writing by UKRI; approval should not be assumed and will be dependent on spend across all associated grants.

We reserve the right to re-profile the grant if required.

Any deviation from the agreed allocation of funding and profiled costs must be negotiated and approved through written consent by UKRI. The approval of profile changes should not be assumed and will be dependent on spend across all associated grants.

At the end of the grant period a breakdown of the expenditure should be submitted along with the final expenditure statement.

GAC 6: embedding trusted research

The grant holder is expected to embed trusted research throughout their activities. EPSRC reserves the right to suspend the grant and withhold further payments if trusted research is not embedded throughout the programme or is deemed to be of an unacceptable standard by EPSRC.

Responsible innovation

UKRI is fully committed to develop and promote responsible innovation. Research has the ability to not only produce understanding, knowledge and value, but also unintended consequences, questions, ethical dilemmas and, at times, unexpected social transformations.

We recognise that we have a duty of care to promote approaches to responsible innovation that will initiate ongoing reflection about the potential ethical and societal implications of the research that we sponsor and to encourage our research community to do likewise.

Supporting documents

Equality impact assessment (PDF, 175KB)

This is the integrated website of the 7 research councils, Research England and Innovate UK.
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