Funding opportunity

Funding opportunity: Pioneer awards: early-stage frontier bioscience research

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Apply for funding to pursue original, early-stage research with the potential to transform our fundamental understanding of biological systems.

Your project should explore visionary and untested ideas.

Your project must:

  • be original and visionary, challenging current thinking and paradigms
  • focus on revealing novel insights and theories relating to our fundamental understanding of biological systems
  • be early-stage and untested

The full economic cost of your project can be up to £200,000. BBSRC will fund 80% of the full economic cost.

Pioneer awards are expected to last between 6 months and 2 years.

The launch of this opportunity is being supported by 2 webinars. See ‘Additional info’ for more details.

Who can apply

This opportunity is open to eligible researchers at:

  • higher education institutions
  • research council institutes
  • approved independent research organisations
  • public sector research establishments

Check if you’re eligible for research and innovation funding.

Principal and co-investigators must meet our standard eligibility criteria, as outlined in BBSRC’s guidance for applicants.

Principal investigators or co-investigators based outside the UK are not permitted.

Multiple applications by the same principal investigator are not permitted. Co-investigators may participate in multiple applications.

Only include investigators who are essential for the delivery of the project.

The inclusion of researcher co-investigators is encouraged where they have made a substantial intellectual contribution to the development of the proposal and will be engaged with the ensuing research.

What we're looking for

The opportunity is in 2 stages. Stage 1 is an expression of interest. Stage 2 is the full proposal.

We recommend you read all the information before you express your interest at stage 1.

Scope

The pioneer awards scheme aims to support original and potentially transformative research that is at an early stage of development.

Proposals must constitute a significant departure from existing lines of investigation within the research field or represent an entirely new line of inquiry.

Proposals should be focused on BBSRC’s understanding the rules of life theme, opening new research directions relevant to fundamental bioscience questions. Proposals must have the potential to substantially shift current and future thinking about an important topic.

Your project:

  • should be original and visionary, challenging current thinking and paradigms
  • must focus on exploring and revealing novel insights and theories relating to our fundamental understanding of biological systems
  • must be early stage and untested, lacking preliminary data and perhaps involving creative or unconventional approaches to the research challenge
  • may involve a high level of uncertainty or require a range of exploratory investigations, such that while there are clear aims to explore, the outcomes are neither predictable nor guaranteed
  • can involve any combination of experimental, analytical and theoretical work, potentially crossing disciplinary boundaries, including non-bioscience fields

You will have to explain the potential of your proposal to deliver a genuine, distinctive advance if successful. Incremental developments, such as direct ‘follow-on from’ established discoveries, will not be supported.

Proposals that incorporate methodological or technology development must demonstrate how the opportunity’s specification is met, including being inspired by a biological problem relevant to the understanding the rules of life area. Proposals that focus on methodological or technology development to address an end-user need are not permitted.

Anticipated outcomes

This is a unique opportunity to apply for funding for high-potential research ideas at a truly early-stage of development. Our aim is to stimulate creativity within the research community, by providing funding that encourages the embedding of a ‘high risk, high reward’ culture in the application and assessment process.

BBSRC accepts that in supporting innovative new lines of research, some proposals may not deliver their anticipated research outcomes. Therefore, the focus of the scheme is on the potential of proposals to deliver distinctive outcomes if successful, such as:

  • making a discovery that upends current thinking
  • testing an unconventional idea at a disciplinary interface
  • opening a novel research avenue or changing how we think about a field
  • demonstrating proof of principle
  • establishing feasibility of a new approach

Additionally, proposals may have other benefits. For example:

  • providing a unique training environment
  • establishing a new cross-disciplinary collaboration
  • deriving key lessons learned from negative results or the disproving of a theory

Exclusions

Proposals will not be considered eligible for this scheme if they:

  • do not primarily address BBSRC’s remit
  • do not clearly address the scope of the opportunity, including a focus on early-stage proof-of-principle research
  • do not directly address the understanding the rules of life theme within the BBSRC strategic delivery plan
  • focus on user-driven challenges, for example: from industry or addressing applied challenges, such as the sustainable development goals
  • are not research grants, for example: where the primary focus is funding for networking, studentships, fellowships, equipment purchase, instrument access, infrastructure or training

Funding available

The full economic cost of your project can be up to £200,000. BBSRC will fund 80% of the full economic cost.

The total budget for this opportunity is £4 million.

Duration

Pioneer awards are expected to last between 6 months and 2 years in duration.

Applicants should aim to start their project between July 2023 and September 2023.

Institutional prioritisation

We anticipate this opportunity appealing to a significant number of researchers. All applicants are required to register their interest in it by 4pm 10 January 2023, ahead of the submission deadline.

BBSRC strongly recommends institutions use an internal prioritisation process to:

  • help ensure proposals are appropriately targeted to this opportunity
  • contribute to efficiency within the expert review process, including burden on the assessor community

Institutional prioritisation should consider the scope and assessment criteria of the funding opportunity, while also ensuring these processes employ good practice relating to equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI).

Institutions are advised that submission of large numbers of proposals, versus the overall scale of funding available and expected level of competition nationally, may result in BBSRC requesting further internal prioritisation.

EDI

BBSRC is committed to encouraging EDI by eliminating unlawful discrimination in accordance with the Equality Act 2010. This opportunity aims to leverage the full strengths of the UK’s diverse research and innovation community.

Institutions should consider opportunities to support the engagement of:

  • women
  • people who identify as an ethnic minority
  • people with a disability
  • early career researchers
  • other groups who may be under-represented

Career stage or diversity information will not be used in the assessment process and will not be used to make funding decisions.

How to apply

UKRI Funding Service

The pioneer awards opportunity is being run on the new UKRI Funding Service. You cannot apply for this opportunity on the Joint Electronic Submission (Je-S) system.

If you do not already have an account with the UKRI Funding Service, you will be able to create one by selecting the ‘start application’ button at the start of this page.

Creating an account is a 2-minute process requiring you to verify your email address and set a password.

If you are a member of an organisation with a research office that we do not have contact details for, we will contact them to enable administrator access. This provides:

  • oversight of every UKRI Funding Service application opened on behalf of your organisation
  • the ability to review and submit applications

Research offices that have not already received an invitation to open an account should email support@funding-service.ukri.org

To hear more about the role of research office professionals in the application process, please see a recording of a recent research office webinar.

BBSRC, as part of UKRI, will need to collect some personal information to manage your funding service account and the registration of your funding applications.

We will handle personal data in line with UK data protection legislation and manage it securely. For more information, including how to exercise your rights, read our privacy notice.

Stage 1: expression of interest

The expression of interest is intended to ensure proposals are appropriately targeted to this funding opportunity and to provide an early indication of the level of demand, team composition and research areas.

We encourage potential applicants to submit an expression of interest as early as possible, to allow sufficient time for consideration of any feedback prior to submission of their full application.

Submitting your expression of interest

When completing your application on the UKRI Funding Service, you will be asked to complete a series of sections. Information on these sections, including guidance to what assessors are looking for, is provided below.

You must complete the first 2 sections of the application, ‘Project summary’ and ‘Applicants’, as detailed below.

Only the principal investigator can edit and complete the application.

If you wish to develop the application collaboratively, we recommend working offline. You can copy and paste text from standard word processing software into the UKRI Funding Service textboxes.

Once you have completed your application, the service enables you to send it to your organisation’s research office for review.

Your organisation’s research office will be responsible for the final submission of the application to BBSRC. Please ensure that you provide your research office with sufficient time to make the final submission.

No financial information is required at stage 1.

Deadline

BBSRC must receive your expression of interest by 10 January 2023 at 4pm.

The submitted application will be reviewed by programme managers, who will provide initial feedback on the suitability of your proposal for the opportunity.

Expression of interest applications submitted after the deadline will not be accepted.

Stage 2: full proposal

The full application is only open to principal investigators who have submitted an expression of interest (stage 1) application and who have received feedback that the proposal is suitable for the opportunity.

It will only become live in the service from 11 January 2023.

Deadline

BBSRC must receive your full application by 14 March 2023 at 4pm.

You will not be able to apply after this time.

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

If you are eligible to apply for stage 2, you will be able to edit the first 2 sections you submitted for stage 1.

Section guidance

External links are only permitted in the ‘References’ section. Your application should be a self-contained description of the proposed project and should not depend on additional information.

Project summary

In plain English, provide a summary of your proposal. Describe your proposed work in terms of its:

  • context
  • aims and objectives
  • fit to the scope of this opportunity

This summary may be made publicly available on external facing websites, so write with disclosure in mind and ensure it can be understood by readers of all levels.

Word count: 600

Applicants

List the key members of your team and assign them roles, for example:

  • principal investigator
  • co-investigator
  • researcher (equivalent to researcher co-investigator)
  • technician (research technical professional)
  • other

The UKRI Funding Service does not list ‘researcher co-investigator’ as a role. Instead, select ‘researcher’ for team members carrying out this role.

Vision

Question: what is the vision for your proposed research?

What the assessors are looking for in your response

You should:

  • introduce the topic of research and explain its academic and wider context
  • highlight the overall aims of the proposed project, explaining its relevance to frontier bioscience: understanding the rules of life
  • justify why your proposal requires a pioneer award
  • explain how the proposed research constitutes a significant departure from current lines of investigation in the field, or explores an entirely new one

Additionally, describe how the proposed research, if successful, will:

  • generate novel hypotheses, concepts, approaches, or methodologies, beyond what is currently regarded as state-of-the-art in the field
  • lead to a distinctive advance in the current field or will open entirely new research directions,
  • have a positive impact on the field in the longer-term

Number your references in this section using a superscript citation style. Then include the details of these references in a corresponding list in the ‘References’ section of this application.

If you need to complement your written narrative with any essential figures, the system explains how they can be uploaded as a single PDF attachment (maximum 8MB).

Word count: 1000

Approach

Question: how are you going to deliver your proposed work?

What the assessors are looking for in your response

You should:

  • provide clearly defined, ambitious, and adventurous objectives
  • describe a suitable programme of work to achieve the project aims, indicating the experimental and data analytical research to be undertaken
  • identify any particularly innovative, unconventional methodologies or approaches that will be explored
  • describe key milestones where you may need to make decisions, track, or evaluate progress
  • demonstrate your awareness of any potential challenges, risks, or limitations of the proposed project
  • describe any alternative approaches, or the learning potential in the event of negative results

It may be helpful to include a diagram that provides a visual overview. This can be uploaded as a single PDF attachment (maximum 8MB).

Number your references in this section using a superscript citation style. Then include the details of these references in a corresponding list, in the ‘References’ section of this application.

Word count: 1500 words

Team capability

Question: how is your team’s skills and knowledge, and your research environment, suited to the delivery of the proposed research?

What the assessors are looking for in your response

This section is focused on describing specific capabilities. It should not contain information on prior publications, positions held, preliminary data, or other elements of track record.

You should:

  • demonstrate your awareness of the needs of the project so that the panel can gauge your broad potential to undertake it
  • describe the investigators relevant skills and knowledge relating to the research topic, for example: experience in particular methods, organisms, or technologies
  • describe the facilities, equipment, or resources that are available
  • describe the role of any other collaborators, project partners or subcontractors

If you have project partners and are successful in securing funding, we will seek confirmation of their support and what it comprises.

Word count: 750

References

Question: what references do you want to include to support the proposed project?

What the assessors are looking for in your response

You should only include references which are essential to evidence the written narratives within other sections. BBSRC does not expect an extensive list of references given the nature of this funding opportunity. You may include hyperlinks within this section.

You should:

  • present any essential references as a numbered list, with the numbers referring to the superscript citations from previous sections
  • provide the digital object identifier for the references

Word count: 300

Full economic cost and justification of resources

Question: what will you need to deliver your proposed work and how much will it cost? 

What the assessors are looking for in your response

Download the economic costing template (DOCX, 96KB), complete it and then upload it as a PDF as explained in the service.

You should:

  • use the textbox to explain why the resources requested are appropriate, considering the nature and complexity of the proposed research.
  • include a statement in the textbox confirming that your organisation has agreed to offer support for equipment over £10,000, if applicable

BBSRC may request formal confirmation of your organisation’s support, if you are successful.

Word count: 1200

Animal usage

Question: does your proposed research involve the use of vertebrate animals or other organisms covered by the Animals Scientific Procedures Act? 

What the assessors are looking for in your response

If not, write ‘N/A’ in the text box, mark this section as complete and move on to the next section.

If you are proposing research that requires using animals, write ‘Yes’ in the text box. Then, download and complete the animal research questionnaire (DOCX, 74KB), which contains all the questions relating to research using vertebrate animals or other Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986 regulated organisms. Then, upload it as a PDF.

Studies proposing to use non-human primates, cats, dogs, equines, or pigs, will be reviewed during the NC3Rs review of research proposals. This is to ensure that plans for any animal usage are appropriate.

Word count: 10

Conducting research with animals overseas

Question: if you propose to conduct research using animals, will any of this be overseas? 

What the assessors are looking for in your response

If not, write ‘N/A’ in the text box, mark this section as complete and move on to the next section.

If you are proposing work that requires the use of animals overseas, it must be conducted in accordance with welfare standards consistent with those in the UK, as per the responsibility in the use of animals in bioscience research.

You should ensure all named applicants in the UK and overseas are aware of this requirement and provide a statement in the textbox to confirm that:

  • all named applicants are aware of the requirements and have agreed to abide by them
  • this overseas research will be conducted in accordance with welfare standards consistent with the principles of UK legislation
  • the expectation set out in the responsibility in the use of animals in bioscience research guidance will be applied and maintained
  • appropriate national and institutional approvals are in place

Overseas studies proposing to use non-human primates, cats, dogs, equines, or pigs, will be reviewed during the NC3Rs review of research proposals. NC3Rs will use the template you have completed and uploaded to the ‘animal usage’ section of the application.

For studies involving other vertebrate species not listed above, you should select and complete the relevant checklists of additional questions on the use of animals overseas. Then, upload this as a PDF attachment in this section. If you need to complete more than one checklist, you should merge them into a single PDF.

Word count: 750

Other ethical considerations

Question: excluding animal usage, what are the other ethical considerations associated with your proposed research?

What the assessors are looking for in your response

If there are no other ethical considerations, write ‘N/A’ into the text box, mark this section as complete and move on to the next section.

Provide information on, and justification for:

  • research involving genetic or biological risk, for example research involving genetically modified organisms
  • research involving human tissues or biological samples, including the nature and quantity of the material used and its source
  • research involving human participation, including the numbers and diversity of the participants involved and any procedures
  • potential impacts of the proposed research on the environment or society in general

State the names of any bodies you will require approval from and whether you already have it. If it is not yet in place, give an indicative timeframe for when it will be.

Word count: 750

Data management and sharing

Question: how will you manage and share data collected or acquired through the proposed research? 

What the assessors are looking for in your response

Provide a data management plan which should clearly detail how you will comply with BBSRC’s data sharing policy.

Word count: 750

Eligibility statement

Question: confirm that you meet BBSRC’s standard eligibility criteria 

What the assessors are looking for in your response:

Principal and co-investigators must meet our standard eligibility criteria, as outlined in BBSRC’s guidance for applicants. You should:

  • state each team member’s current salaried position
  • state whether their current contract outlasts the period of the grant or will be extended beyond the period of the grant, should your proposal be successful
  • state whether they are resident in the UK for at least 183 days per year

BBSRC reserves the right to reject your application before review if members of your team are not eligible. We may contact you for additional assurance if the eligibility of a team member is unclear from the information provided.

Word count: 300

How we will assess your application

This is a pilot scheme. It will trial a modified approach to assess and prioritise funding for adventurous, early-stage research ideas that might struggle to compete in standard funding opportunities. Submission of proposals that do not clearly fall into this category is strongly discouraged as they will not be successful.

On its completion, the pilot will be subject to an evaluation which will consider the outcomes delivered, as well as feedback from the panel and applicants on the expert review process. A short survey will be circulated to participants to gather this information.

Assessment process

Proposals will be assessed by a review panel drawn from BBSRC’s pool of experts and other subject matter experts as required. External reviews will not be sought and there will be no opportunity for a principal investigator’s response.

The scheme will use assessment criteria designed to embed a positive review culture in supporting early stage, exploratory ideas.

Proposals will be subject to expert review by the panel and given a score between 1.0 and 10.0. Then they will be ranked.

Given the early-stage nature of the research this funding opportunity aims to support, it is recognised that the panel may opt to deploy a randomised approach to separate proposals on the same score following discussion.

The panel will provide a final funding recommendation to BBSRC.

Assessment criteria

There are 4 assessment criteria.

Fit to scope

To what extent:

  • is the proposed work exploratory or early-stage, lacking preliminary data or prior evidence from the literature?
  • does the proposed work focus on progressing fundamental knowledge of living systems, aligning to the understanding the rules of life theme within the BBSRC strategic delivery plan?

Transformative potential

To what extent does the proposal have the potential to:

  • alter the knowledge base in the field by challenging current understanding, or to create entirely new paradigms or pathways to novel research fields?
  • deliver a step-change, rather than an incremental change?
  • generate novel hypotheses, concepts, approaches, or methodologies, beyond the current state-of-the-art in the field?
  • have a positive impact on the field in the longer term?

Research excellence

To what extent does the proposed work:

  • explore a novel and exciting research idea?
  • demonstrate originality and innovation in its thinking, approaches or methodologies?
  • have clearly defined, ambitious and adventurous objectives?

Additionally, to what extent:

  • are the proposed research approaches broadly feasible and suitable to accomplish the aims of the project within its duration?
  • is the proposed plan of work well-reasoned, including showing awareness of potential risks to delivery?
  • have potential alternative approaches or the learning potential in the result of negative results been adequately considered?
  • has broad project viability, in terms of the necessary skills and resources required, been demonstrated?

Resources

To what extent are the requested resources appropriate and justified?

The assessment panel will also provide advice to BBSRC on whether the following are satisfactory:

  • any animal usage
  • ethics
  • data management and sharing

BBSRC will examine all proposals submitted for suitability to the opportunity. Some proposals may be rejected before panel review if they are considered unresponsive to its scope.

Scoring definitions

These will be the standard UKRI Funding Service scoring definitions.

Outcomes

You can expect to hear from BBSRC regarding the outcome of your application in June 2023.

If you are successful, you may be required to provide BBSRC with some additional information.

This includes:

  • statement of support from your organisation
  • letters of support from project partners, if applicable
  • details of any project partner contributions, if applicable
  • project technical summary

Collecting this information from successful applicants only is intended to lessen the burden on the community at the application stage.

Feedback

This is a panel-only assessment. There will be no principal investigator response opportunity and only summary feedback from the panel will be provided.

Applicants will also be informed in which category their proposal was scored.

Resubmission policy

BBSRC’s resubmission policy applies to this scheme. Previously unsuccessful proposals should not be submitted without substantial revisions. Please contact us if you require advice on the suitability of your proposal.

Submitted proposals that fall above a quality threshold agreed by the panel may be advised that they are potentially suitable to resubmit to a future round of the scheme. The opportunity is a pilot and there is no guarantee that similar opportunities will be run.

Further advice will be provided in feedback to applicants.

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

For any queries about the scope of this opportunity, please contact the pioneer awards team.

Pioneer awards team

Email: pioneerawards@bbsrc.ukri.org

Get help with applying through the Funding Service

Email: support@funding-service.ukri.org

For any queries or difficulties creating an account, signing in, or if you need any other help with the Funding Service, please contact the support team.

Telephone: 01793 265810

Additional info

Attend a webinar

The launch of this opportunity is being supported by 2 webinars you can register for now. This will present an overview of the pioneer awards scheme, followed by an opportunity to ask questions.

Register for 1 of the following dates:

A copy of the material presented will also be provided here after the live sessions.

After signing-up, you will receive a confirmation email containing joining information.

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