Funding opportunity

Funding opportunity: Human Functional Genomics Initiative clusters

Apply for funding to lead a cluster as part of a coordinated Human Functional Genomics Initiative.

You must:

  • be based at an organisation eligible for MRC funding
  • meet individual eligibility requirements

Clusters could include:

  • platforms using existing technologies at scale to interrogate functional readout of genetic variation
  • development of novel tools, technologies and biological models for functional genomics research
  • research focused on the interplay of genetic variance and physiological pathways, organs and systems in both healthy and disease states

The total fund is up to £16 million. MRC will fund up to 80% of the full economic cost (FEC) and funding will last for four years.

Please note the expression of interest stage (stage one) has closed with decisions communicated no later than 25 May 2023.

Full applications (stage two) are only permitted from invited applicants. The deadline for full applications is 27 July 2023.

Who can apply

Before applying to MRC for funding, please check the following:

Eligibility

To be eligible to apply for MRC funding you must:

  • be a researcher or technologist employed by an eligible research organisation
  • have at least a postgraduate degree, although we expect most applicants to have a PhD or medical degree and meet individual eligibility requirements
  • show that you will direct the project and be actively engaged in the work
  • have the relevant expertise and experience to lead an MRC project

Applications can be from a single eligible organisation or a partnership of organisations.

When there are two or more eligible organisations involved, for administrative purposes it is necessary to identify a single principal investigator who must be affiliated with the lead research organisation. However, the balance of activity and leadership across the partner organisations can be equally shared if desirable. What is critical is for the approach to leadership and decision making across multiple organisations to be clearly specified.

Where appropriate, we encourage you to include one or more project partners in your application, from industry, charities or the wider third sector.

While international organisations cannot lead an application, it is possible for an international researcher to apply, as a co-investigator. We expect international co-investigators to offer expertise or facilities not available in the UK and to provide clear indicators of commitment to the project.

Equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI)

MRC is committed to achieving equality of opportunity for all funding applicants. We encourage applications from a diverse range of researchers and technologists.

We support people to work in a way that suits their personal circumstances. This includes:

  • career breaks
  • support for people with caring responsibilities
  • flexible working
  • alternative working patterns

Read MRC’s guidance on flexible working and career breaks. You can also find out more about MRC’s current EDI initiatives and EDI at UK Research and Innovation.

Diversity is one of the core MRC values and we are committed to creating inclusive environments that encourage excellence in 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. MRC expect funded projects and their leadership to be diverse. We encourage the leadership model to be inclusive, diverse, and creative, with rotation or succession of positions as appropriate.

Organisations that are not eligible to apply

These organisations cannot apply to host an award, but can participate as project partners on an application led by an eligible UK organisation:

  • businesses
  • international research organisations

What we're looking for

The Human Functional Genomics Initiative will advance the UKRI ‘securing better health, ageing and wellbeing’ strategic priority, an initiative driven forward by all UKRI research councils.

Scope

The Human Functional Genomics Initiative aims to advance our understanding of the complexity of human physiology and how it changes over time and in disease, by exploiting recent advances in our ability to explore how genetic variation impacts complex phenotypes. This will enable the discovery and development of the next generation of genomically informed biomarkers, diagnostics, therapeutics, and preventative medicine strategies.

This is a timely opportunity to support functional genomics research as the convergence of recent advances in gene-editing technology, multimodal functional assessment at scale, artificial intelligence, and effective cell-based model systems allows us to answer questions that have previously been impossible.

In this initiative, we are seeking to fund a coordinated network of interdisciplinary clusters to drive a greater understanding of physiological pathways, organs and systems in both healthy and disease states through functional genomics research. The funded clusters are expected to complement each other, pro-actively coordinate across the initiative, work collaboratively, and provide access to the models, tools and data developed through the initiative on an open as possible, closed as necessary basis.

Read UK Research and Innovation’s (UKRI) guidance on making your research data open.

In addition to the clusters funded through this opportunity we will provide substantial ring-fenced funding to facilitate effective coordination across the initiative and with external partners, and support for platforms to curate, integrate and make available data generated via this initiative and related efforts.

Through this funding, we aim to:

  • boost functional genomic capability
  • develop causal models of biological processes in health and disease for functional assessment and validation
  • develop new high throughput perturbation and readout technologies and tools for data analysis

This will be underpinned by support for data integration and findable, accessible, interoperable, and reusable (FAIR) data standards for data discoverability and accessibility.

Where relevant, each cluster proposal should articulate:

  • the key biological and methodological challenges in functional genomics to be addressed
  • how you will draw on genetic insights to direct and inform your work. You should consider how you will address:
    • health equity through population diversity of samples
    • benefits of using diverse data in revealing new functional insights
    • the limitations on the conclusions drawn from your own research and applicability of the research to UK and global populations
  • how you will draw on or develop translatable models of human physiology across the life course for health and disease with a pathway, system, or organ focus. For example, this could include the use of longitudinal cohort or patient samples and data or development and validation of new technological approaches

You should also explain the intended outputs and impacts of the cluster proposal:

  • how your work will drive deeper mechanistic understanding of the interplay of genetic variance in physiological function across the life course for healthy and disease states, and the potential impact. For example, new biomarkers, clinical positioning hypothesis or novel targets
  • how the cluster will address a capability gap in the UK functional genomics research landscape
  • why you are best placed to deliver it
  • how what you are doing will connect with other relevant initiatives
  • what you could contribute to the initiative and to other researchers in the field, and what you would benefit from the initiative. For example:
    • training
    • knowledge exchange
    • sharing of tools, models and data

To be within scope, you must articulate an ambitious programme of work focused on human physiology in health and disease with clear potential to catalyse a step change in functional genomics research in a relevant biological context. The proposal could include, but is not limited to, the following:

  • platforms using existing technologies at scale to interrogate functional readout of genetic variation, for example:
    • genome perturbation
    • multiscale and multimodal functional analysis
    • functional and regulatory screening
  • development of novel and emerging tools and technologies to enable functional genomics research, for example, perturbation technologies, analytical methods or data methods
  • development and application of tools for analysis, comparative analysis and interpretation of functional genomics data. For example:
    • bioinformatics
    • computational biology and modelling
    • artificial intelligence tools
  • research focused on the interplay of genetic variance and physiological pathways, organs and systems in both healthy and disease states, including pursuing research in the correct biological context. For example:
    • cell type
    • physiological and developmental states
    • stage of the life course
    • dynamic and spatial context
  • the development of relevant translatable biological models that seek to delineate causal pathways. For example, models could include primary or induced pluripotent stem cells from healthy and patient donors

Where this is applicable to the research, we encourage the use of human biosamples and data to enhance the physiological and disease relevance and enable more rapid translation of the research.

You should also consider how the cluster will connect with and complement, rather than duplicate, existing infrastructure, initiatives and resources, including but not limited to:

  • Joint AstraZeneca-Cancer Research Horizons Functional Genomics Centre
  • Human Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells Initiative
  • National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) Bioresource
  • NIHR-MRC Rare Disease Network
  • Genomics England 100k Genomes Project
  • UKRI artificial intelligence innovation to accelerate health research

We will not support:

  • functional genomics approaches in oncology, as there is existing UK investment and expertise in this area. The greatest identified need is for investment in non-oncology approaches. The use of cancer cells lines in non-oncology projects is permitted, where appropriate
  • proposals solely focused on high throughput arrayed or pooled clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats (CRISPR) screening. The overall initiative will include a recent MRC investment in an industry-partnered functional genomics facility (details will be announced in due course). This will provide the UK research community with high throughput arrayed CRISPR screening capacity, expertise and technical support
  • applications should primarily focus on human biological models and cells. Animal research that significantly enhances or complements activity may be considered, and, where appropriate, applicants are encouraged to engage with existing investments, for example, National Mouse Genetics Network

We also support functional genomics research focused on specific pathways, systems, or organs through MRC research boards, you should consider whether your proposed research is better aligned to these schemes:

We encourage you to contact us first at functionalgenomics@mrc.ukri.org to discuss your application.

Collaboration and principals of participation

Clusters should be organised around a defined research or methodological challenge and can include one or more eligible research organisations, as necessary. We strongly encourage applications from new groupings of researchers from multiple disciplines and research interests.

We strongly encourage collaboration with both small and large companies, including appropriate cash or in-kind contributions to the cluster, but it is not mandatory. Partnerships should be mutually beneficial and in line with MRC’s Industry Collaboration Framework.

We also encourage collaboration between academic and clinical researchers, where this is relevant to the cluster challenge.

We expect funded clusters to adopt an open and transparent approach to data sharing to enable access across the clusters, wider initiative and research community, as necessary. Read UKRI’s guidance on making your research data open.

Funded clusters are expected to champion a collaborative and open ethos to accelerate the collective impact and reach of the initiative and sustainability of its outputs.

Coordination and leadership

We will support an openly collaborative culture to enable the clusters to be outwardly facing, engaged with each other and relevant UK capabilities to allow the initiative to remain agile and responsive to emerging opportunities.

We will appoint a director of the initiative, and more information on the appointment process will be made available in due course. The role of the director will be to:

  • oversee and champion the coordination of the clusters, both within the initiative and with the wider academic, clinical and industrial research communities
  • advocate the principals of participation
  • respond to emerging opportunities
  • lead cluster engagement with an oversight board that reports to the funders

Additional funds will be available to the director to support these responsibilities.

The supporting data platform to curate, integrate and make available data generated via this initiative and related efforts will be commissioned separately by the funders

Funding and duration

Details:

  • the total fund is up to £16 million and we anticipate funding four to five clusters
  • we will fund 80% FEC
  • projects should last four years
  • projects should start by 1 April 2024

What costs we will fund

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

What costs we will not fund

  • research involving randomised trials of clinical treatments
  • costs for PhD studentships
  • publication costs

Project partners

Where appropriate, we encourage the inclusion of project partners that will support the cluster through appropriate cash or in-kind contributions, such as:

  • staff time
  • access to equipment
  • sites or facilities
  • the provision of data
  • software or materials

We especially encourage collaboration between academic, clinical and industry researchers

At the full application stage, each project partner must provide a letter of support. If your application involves industry partners, they must provide a company letter of support if the project partner falls within the industry collaboration framework.

Find out more about subcontractors and dual roles.

Who cannot be included as a project partner

The individual named as the contact for the project partner organisation cannot also be named as staff.

How to apply

The Functional Genomics Initiative Clusters funding opportunity has two stages.

Stage one

The expression of interest stage is mandatory. You must submit an expression of interest to MRC using the Joint Electronic Submission (Je-S) system and case for support template.

To manage demand, individuals may only submit one expression of interest as a principal investigator.

The expression for interest stage is open and will close on 4 May 2023 at 4:00pm UK time.

Following completion of your expression of interest, you will be notified and invited to apply to the full application stage (stage two). We will communicate expression of interest decisions no later than 25 May 2023. You can find advice on completing your Je-S expression of interest under the ‘How to apply stage one: expression of interest’ heading.

Stage two

The full application stage will open on 4 April 2023, closing on 27 July 2023 at 4:00pm UK time.

How to apply stage one: expression of interest

We recommend you submit your expression of interest as soon as possible.

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

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: Expression of Interest Functional genomics 2023.

This will populate:

  • council: MRC
  • document type: outline proposal
  • scheme: standard outline
  • call/type/mode: Expression of Interest Functional Genomics 2023

Once you have completed your application, make sure you ‘submit document’ to your research office for checking and approval.

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

Deadline

MRC must receive your expression of interest application by 4 May 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.

What to include within your expression of interest application

You must follow the below guidance before accessing Je-S.

Je-S application

Project details section

Search the database to add the lead research organisation and department, where the funded award will be held.

Project title

The title should be as informative as possible, capturing the essence of the research challenge. It should not exceed 150 characters. Avoid using specialist characters and symbols.

Start date and duration

The start date should be no later than 1 April 2024

The project duration will be 48 months.

Investigators

All applicants eligible to be included as part of the proposed leadership team, should be added to the Je-S application as an investigator.

If the application is to be delivered in partnership by two or more eligible organisations, then the principal investigator must be from the organisation which will lead the partnership (as detailed within project details section). All host organisations must be represented by an eligible co-investigator.

Each member of the leadership team will need an active Je-S account at the required level (proposal Je-S account type), to allow their inclusion as an investigator. The individual who will act as the grant holder with responsibilities to MRC at the start of the MRC award should be included within the application as principal investigator, this is for administrative purposes. Other leadership team members should be the application co-investigators (including international researchers if applicable).

The leadership team members’ application roles should not imply relative status or influence the leadership model which is for the applicants to propose.

These roles and people added do not limit who might be recruited to team at the full application.

If you are a researcher based in the UK, an overseas MRC unit or an international researcher who has not created a Je-S account, navigate to the Je-S home page and select ‘create an account’.

Principal investigator

Search the Je-S database to add the principal investigator and select ‘save’.

Co-investigator

Search the Je-S database to add all other members of the leadership team as co-investigator and select ‘save’. Repeat process to add all new co-investigators (including any international researchers assisting with the leadership of the project).

Researcher co-investigator

Search the Je-S database to add all other members of the leadership team as researcher co-investigator and select ‘save’. Repeat process to add all researcher co-investigators (including any international researcher co-investigators assisting with the leadership of the project).

Researcher co-investigator status is aimed at researchers who are currently not eligible to be a principal investigator or a co-investigator on a grant but who provide significant intellectual input to grant writing and design.

To be considered suitable for the status of researcher co-investigator I, applicants are expected to not be eligible as a principal investigator or co-investigator of a research grant in their own right (for example, because they do not have a contract of employment with any of the participating research organisations for the duration of the grant prior to application). This could include, but is not limited to:

  • postdoctoral researchers
  • technology specialists
  • clinical fellows

For further information related to researcher co-investigator eligibility.

Project partners

If project partners will be involved in the project, please note, they are not required to be detailed at the expression of interest stage.

If your application involves 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 full application under the ICF.

Grant type

Select the option to indicate research grant and save.

Case for support attachment

All applicants are required to use the expression of interest template (DOCX, 263KB), designed for this expression of interest stage.

When you have downloaded and completed the case for support template, you are required to upload this to the attachments section of the Je-S expression of interest outline application.

How to apply stage two: full application

A full application is only permitted after receipt of your expression of interest application (stage one) and subsequent invitation to submit a full application (stage two).

Submitting your application

All investigators involved in the project need to be registered on Je-S.

Any investigators who do not have a Je-S account must register for one at least seven working days before the funding opportunity deadline.

When applying:

  1. Select ‘documents’, then ‘new document’.
  2. Select ‘call search’.
  3. To find the opportunity, search for: Functional Genomics clusters Initiative 2023.

This will populate:

  • council: MRC
  • document type: standard proposal
  • scheme: research grant
  • call/type/mode: Functional Genomics clusters Initiative 2023

Deadline

MRC must receive your full application by 27 July 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.

What to include with your application

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

  • a curriculum vitae (CV) for each named researcher, including investigators and named researchers. Each CV should not exceed two sides of A4
  • publications (should not exceed one side of A4 per named person)
  • a case for support, which length should not exceed 12 pages
  • a justification of resources (should not exceed two sides of A4)
  • a data management plan (DMP). Page length can vary, see section 2.2.7 of our attachments guidance. You must use the available DMP template form

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 not exceed two sides of A4 or equivalent on headed paper or a PDF of an email.

Optional attachments include:

  • covering letter: this can be up to two sides of A4 using a sans-serif typeface (Arial or equivalent) and font size of 11pt
  • letters of support: each letter should not exceed two sides of A4 or equivalent on headed paper or a PDF of an email
  • Gantt chart: chart should not exceed one side of A4 or equivalent

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 an application
  • 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.

Each project partner must provide a project partner letter of support, which should not exceed two pages of A4 on headed paper or a PDF of an email. The letter must:

  • be an integral part of the application
  • focus on the application it accompanies which includes the requirement to include a project partner letter of support

Full details of the content the project partner should include in their letter of support, are provided in section 2.2.6 of the MRC guidance for applicants.

MRC ICF

If your application involves the collaboration of one or more industrial partners, you should review the information published within the MRC 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.

Research disruption caused by COVID-19 pandemic

You have the option to include a one-page annex to the case for support. You can use it 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

Stage one: expression of interest

Information provided as part of the expression of interest will not be formally assessed. MRC head office will use this information to:

  • check remit and fit to funding opportunity scope
  • anticipate expected submission levels
  • identify panel members

In the event of high demand for this funding opportunity, MRC reserves the right to introduce shortlisting during the assessment process.

Stage two: full application

Full applications will be assessed by an expert review panel on 14 to 15 September 2023. We expect to publish the membership of the panel on this web page before the full application deadline.

The panel will assess applications using MRC’s core research grant assessment criteria, within the context of the scope of this funding opportunity. Read our detailed assessment criteria.

In addition to the core assessment criteria, the panel will consider the following:

Collaboration

  • is there convincing commitment to the principals of participation?
  • is there evidence of previous collaborative and coordination activities?
  • what are the outlined processes to enable sharing of models, tools and data developed through the initiative?
  • Is the assembled team composed of a suitable breadth of researchers and partnering organisations?
  • Is there alignment and complementarity with other proposed clusters and existing infrastructure, initiatives and resources?

Expert review panel

An expert review panel will review your application against the criteria, using the MRC scoring matrix. At the end of the meeting, the panel will discuss final funding recommendations, considering the score of each proposal and the potential complementarity of clusters, with the aim of supporting the strongest possible portfolio.

We aim to communicate funding decisions within two weeks of the full panel meeting in September 2023.

Feedback

If your application was discussed by the expert review panel and they provided feedback, this will be sent to you within six weeks of the panel meeting.

Principles of assessment

UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) supports the San Francisco declaration on research assessment and recognises the relationship between research assessment and research integrity.

Find out about the UKRI principles of assessment and decision making.

Contact details

Get help with your application

For help on costings and writing your application, contact your research office. Allow enough time for your organisation’s submission process.

Ask about this funding opportunity

Functional genomics team

Email: functionalgenomics@mrc.ukri.org

Include ‘Functional Genomics’ in the subject line.

We aim to respond within five 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

Updates

  • 31 August 2023
    Panel membership added under 'Supporting documents' in the 'Additional info' section. Panel meeting date changed from 'September 2023' to '14 to 15 September 2023'.

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