Nucleic Acid Therapy Accelerator Research Challenges: information regarding the funding opportunities and subsidy scheme



UK Research and Innovation

UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) brings together the seven disciplinary research councils, Research England, which is responsible for supporting research and knowledge exchange at higher education institutions in England, and the UK’s innovation agency, Innovate UK.

Nucleic Acid Therapy Accelerator

The Nucleic Acid Therapy Accelerator (NATA) is a £30 million Strategic Priorities Fund (SPF) investment, managed and delivered by the Medical Research Council (MRC), part of UKRI.

NATA is a research initiative with a mission to accelerate the development of nucleic acid therapeutics (NATs), building partnerships with industry and academia from around the world. The NATA programme consists of two main offerings to the UK research and innovation community:

  • the NATA Hub, which offers world-leading, state-of-the-art NAT research infrastructure
  • substantive consortium grants to address two focused research challenges representing major barriers to NAT development.

NATA Research Challenges

Two priority challenge areas were identified in consultation with the research community and industry, as representing major bottlenecks in NAT research and development:

Two funding opportunities have been established to seek consortium-led research programmes that would have clear potential to catalyse a step-change in these areas. The total available budget for these funding opportunities is:

  • £6 million for the Manufacture Research Challenge
  • £8 million for the Delivery Research Challenge, including up to £2 million partner funding from LifeArc.

The funding opportunities are both managed by MRC as open competitions, with applications assessed by independent expert review panels.

Eligibility for funding

Eligibility to apply for funding is limited to the following types of research organisation (RO):

  • academic organisation
  • small or medium enterprise (SME)
  • eligible public sector research establishment (PSRE)
  • UK Catapult.

Projects must be collaborative. At least two organisations must be involved, including a minimum of one partner commercially active in the NAT field in the UK. The organisation leading the consortium (lead research organisation (RO)) must be UK-based.

Where the consortium lead RO is an academic organisation, MRC will provide funding to the lead RO, who will be responsible for the allocation of funding to other eligible consortium partners in accordance with the budget requested and approved by the expert review panel and MRC.

Where the consortium lead RO is not an academic organisation (for example, a Catapult, PSRE or SME), the funding allocation process would be determined on the basis of existing UKRI processes.

Company funding eligibility

In supporting this funding opportunity, the MRC is keen for industry to be actively involved in consortia. It is recognised that a substantial amount of the expertise and resources in the NAT field lie within companies both in and outside the UK. Therefore, industry involvement in the research challenges would enable delivery of high-quality research and pull-through of consortium outputs, that would positively impact the UK academic community.

Whilst MRC expects that large companies would support their own costs in participating in a consortium, requests for funding from small or medium companies involved in the consortia will be considered. Companies will need to meet the definition of a small or medium sized enterprise (SME), as set out in the UK Companies House accounts guidance (Section 11.1), to be eligible to apply for funding to cover research costs.

Eligible companies requesting funding will be assessed on a case-by-case basis, as part of the competitive review of the consortium application, and will need to detail within their full application:

  • why the involvement of the company is essential to the success of the consortium
  • how funding to the company will be used to support the objectives of the consortium
  • why the company is not able to support the costs themselves.

MRC requests that companies eligible to receive funding consider whether they are able to request costs of up to 80% full economic cost (fEC), in line with academic organisations.

Should this not be feasible, eligible companies will be able to request support for up to 100% fEC, should the rationale be adequately justified and evidenced in the full application. All funding should be requested at cost by eligible companies and in line with relevant subsidy control regulations.

Subsidy control considerations (and State aid where applicable)

This funding opportunity must provide funding in line with the UK’s obligations and commitments to subsidy control. These include:

Companies based in Northern Ireland should make it clear whether Article 10 of the Northern Ireland protocol applies to them and their participation in the consortium, and therefore whether any funding request would need to be considered under EU State Aid regulations.

Companies based in the EU must be compliant with the General Block Exemption Regulation principles to request funding, and funding requested must be at the appropriate aid intensity.

Companies based outside the UK and EU should take into account relevant FTAs and WTO rules when requesting funding.

If the companies requesting funding within the consortium are doing so at different funding intensities (for example company one is requesting funding at 80% fEC and company two at 50% fEC), the consortium is asked to collectively consider and outline in their application why this is necessary and what steps would be taken to minimise any potential distortion of competition.

Award management, assurance and governance

The award will be made under the UKRI standard terms and conditions, alongside scheme and project-specific terms and conditions. The award will be subject to the UKRI funding assurance programme and other UKRI corporate policies and standards.

The lead RO will be responsible for regular reporting to MRC and NATA regarding the project’s delivery, including financial and risk reporting. The MRC reserves the right to suspend or reprofile the grant if spend does not closely match the allocation. Failure to meet project progression milestones may result in termination of the award atMRC’s discretion.

The award will be subject to a legally-binding collaboration agreement that meets MRC’s requirements and is signed by all consortium members. The consortium governance arrangements must include a commercialisation committee and external advisory board, which will inform the reporting to MRC and NATA.

Delivery of the NATA programme is overseen by the UKRI SPF Programme Board.

Subsidy provision, monitoring and compliance

MRC is carrying out extensive due diligence relating to companies applying for subsidies.

It is the responsibility of any company that receives a subsidy from this award to notify us immediately should any of the following arise:

  • the company no longer meets the definition of an SME during the grant funding period, as defined by the UK government (UK Companies House accounts guidance, section 11.1 onwards)
  • the company or any of its board members are involved in any criminal prosecution, regulatory investigation or civil proceedings
  • the company receives funding under a rescue and restructuring aid scheme, or enters insolvency proceedings, liquidation, or other creditor voluntary arrangement.

MRC reserves the right to request further information, including grant expenditure details, during the grant funding period and following the end of the project. If a company does not co-operate then MRC has the right to terminate the funding.

MRC reserves the right to reduce the level of subsidy, if necessary, in line with UKRI standard terms and conditions.



Subsidy scheme details

Granting authority: UKRI

Subsidy scheme title: Nucleic Acid Therapy Accelerator Research Challenges

Start date (date of budget approval): 14 October 2021

End date: 31 March 2026

Legal basis:

UKRI’s legal basis is set out under the Higher Education and Research Act 2017, (Part 3).

The scheme is designed to comply with the UK-EU Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA), signed on 30 December 2020, together with UK government guidance on complying with the UK’s international obligations on subsidy control as issued from time to time.

In all cases a proposed subsidy will have been assessed to meet the definition of a ‘subsidy’ and awards shall be compatible with the principles agreed in the TCA and the UK subsidy guidance. The TCA applies to subsidies to suppliers of goods and services. The scheme may be modified or replaced prior to December 2022 once further UK legislation on subsidy control within the UK comes into effect.

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