How schemes from the UK’s major biomedical funders are affected by the coronavirus outbreak
Research Professional News has collected information from major UK and international funders on how the Covid-19 pandemic is affecting their scheduled grant schemes. All information should be treated as being subject to change but was correct to the best of our knowledge at the time of going to press.
In this section we summarise the positions of:
- UK Research and Innovation funders
- National Institute for Health Research
- The Association of Medical Research Charities
- Alzheimer’s Research UK
- British Heart Foundation
- Cancer Research UK
- Royal Society
- Wellcome Trust
1. Public funding bodies
Potential applicants to all UKRI schemes should refer to UKRI’s 27 March statement which says that it is “planning that UKRI funding programmes will continue, but we will work to identify any impacts on specific calls or research disciplines. Our funding systems—Je-S, IFS and _connect—are operating as normal. We will review our call deadlines and, if required, extend or reopen calls in light of the impact of coronavirus. This will be considered on a case-by-case basis by the appropriate council or fund. We will continue to receive and decide quickly on grants relevant to the management and follow-up of the coronavirus pandemic.”
On 31 March, UKRI opened a multidisciplinary call for research and innovation ideas to address the coronavirus pandemic. Projects can run for up to 18 months and should address the health, social, economic or environmental impacts of the outbreak.
UKRI is also encouraging projects that support the manufacture or wide-scale adoption of an intervention with "significant potential", as well as projects that gather "critical data and resources quickly for future research use".
The previous day, UKRI chief executive Mark Walport announced the launch of "a single web portal for streamlined shorter grant and innovation applications [for coronavirus research], including guidance for researchers currently holding UKRI standard grants that wish to repurpose their funds for Covid-19".
In its 27 March statement, UKRI also said there would "clearly be major impacts of the coronavirus pandemic on all existing awards". The organisation is pledging to "work with the many institutions affected to understand the full extent of the issues" disrupting their activities and pass along concerns to the UK government. Extensions will be considered on a "case-by-case basis" and it will offer "no-cost extensions" on grants disrupted by Covid-19. Such extensions will generally be offered for three to six months, subject to terms and conditions, the agency says.
In a lengthy Q&A on its website, the NIHR tells those working on studies not related to Covid-19 to “prioritise frontline care”, rather than research. It says many such studies may need to be paused. The institute’s Clinical Research Network, which usually helps researchers carry out studies, will no longer support new or ongoing studies that are not nationally prioritised work related to Covid-19.
Despite this, all NIHR funding schemes and calls are open for applications and deadlines for all stages of application processes remain as previously advertised.
The Association of Medical Research Charities
In a live blog on Covid-19, the AMRC recognises the outbreak has affected the research its member charities fund, the vulnerable communities they support and the ways their charities work.
The association says it is currently focused on helping its members share information about how the research they fund is affected through an online chat service.
An AMRC spokeswoman told Research Professional News on 25 March: “We don’t yet have a position we’re asking members to adhere to. We’re still collecting information from them to understand the challenges they’re facing and the positions they’re taking, as this is a fast-changing situation.”
Alzheimer’s Research UK
Rosa Sancho, head of research at Alzheimer’s Research UK, told Research Professional News on 24 March that the charity had postponed its response-mode funding programme until the Autumn. All applications currently under review will be discussed by Alzheimer’s Research UK’s grant review board in January 2021.
More generally, Sancho said, “we are looking across our portfolio to delay the start of any new funding or partnerships until the full implications of Covid-19 are better understood.”
She continued: “The disruption caused by the coronavirus will necessarily affect our 2020 funding schemes as the whole dementia research community takes the important steps needed to limit the spread of the virus.”
Sancho stressed that the charity was committed to restarting its response-mode funding as soon as possible and at that time any disruptions due to the outbreak would be considered when assessing researchers’ record of outputs, research achievements, and career progression.
Current Alzheimer’s Research UK grantees “will be offered more flexibility,” she said, in recognition of the fact “that there may need to be significant changes to the way in which projects are carried out due to restrictions on travel, work, recruitment and so on.”
British Heart Foundation
In a statement sent to Research Professional News on 31 March, the British Heart Foundation said that its standard grant schemes remain open for applications and it plans to hold grant committee meetings as scheduled. However, the schedule for awarding and starting grants may change, depending on how the outbreak progresses.
The BHF said it will waive certain documents usually required as part of applications, such as sign-off of NHS costs, but it will need approval by a head of department to proceed without these and may delay a final decision until they are received.
The British Heart Foundation has also promised to keep paying the salaries of staff funded on grants for the period their institution is shut down or if studies have to be paused midway due to redeployment of staff or there are problems recruiting patients.
“We are prepared to support requests for no-cost extensions to grants to cover any delays caused by suspension of research,” the charity told Funding Insight. “If suspension of research is prolonged and a costed extension is required, we will consider requests on a case by case basis in due course.”
“If clinical research staff funded on grants are redeployed to support front line NHS staff, we request that they keep a record of affected staff member(s), the duration of redeployment (start/end dates) and the salary contributions recoverable from the NHS,” the statement said.
Cancer Research UK
“We’ve made the difficult decision to defer all our funding panels and committees to the second half of the year and any grants that are up for renewal will be bridged in the meanwhile,” Iain Foulkes, Cancer Research UK’s executive director of research and innovation, told Research Professional News on 25 March.
“We are ensuring that measures are in place so that we can continue our research as best we can,” Foulkes said. “We will continue to assess the impact of this crisis on our work and endeavour to ensure our research continues wherever possible.”
In a statement on 30 March the charity added that it was expecting a 25 per cent drop in its fundraising income and that was likely to impact what it could fund. “We’ve already deferred our spring research grant funding round, and we are making further cuts to our research funding,” said CRUK CEO Michelle Mitchell in the statement. “We must be realistic about what we can deliver given the current circumstances.”
3. Institutional funders
According to the Royal Society’s Covid-19 information webpage on 2 April “all [the Royal Society’s] funding programmes and calls currently remain open for applications in line with advertised dates. We will endeavour not to make any changes to application deadlines, interview dates or decision dates.”
There have been changes to some schemes, however. The society has suspended applications to its Lisa Jardine Grant Scheme as the libraries and archives which the applicants would be visiting are currently closed and will be for the next few months. For similar reasons it is has also not yet opened a scheduled call for early-career researchers to apply for travel grants to attend the Commonwealth Science Conference 2021 which is due to take place in Nairobi, Kenya.
Elsewhere, the society has extended the application deadlines for its Newton International Fellowship and International Collaboration Award. Its other calls remain unaffected by the outbreak.
“We will be aiming to minimise the impact of coronavirus on funded grants activities as far as possible,” a society spokesman told Funding Insight on 31 March. “We will work with applicants, award holders and host organisations to ensure that fair and appropriate support is in place.”
A short statement from the Wellcome Trust sent to Research Professional News on 27 March stated: “All of our funding schemes and calls remain open for applications. Deadlines, shortlisting, interview and decision dates will not change.”
The trust had previously extended the deadlines of all schemes due to close to applications before April 2020 by one week. In its online guidance, the trust says it can approve and submit applications on behalf of institutions that have shut due to coronavirus, but a responsible person in the organisation will need to email the trust to allow this to happen.
For existing grants, the trust will supplement grants for the costs employing organisations incur paying grantees salaries while they are away, less any recoverable statutory pay. It will also pay defined costs for grants that need to be paused because the holder has taken up coronavirus response work.