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Resisting resistance

An international partnership looks for impact from its final calI

The Joint Programming Initiative on Antimicrobial Resistance is an international funding collaboration involving 29 nations, the European Commission and UK Research and Innovation. It aims to tackle what is widely considered to be an existential threat to humanity.

The final call in the initiative’s current format has two strands: both are concerned with aspects of resistance to antifungal treatments, with the second including bacterial infections as well. Bids must involve consortia with a minimum of three project partners, requesting funding from three eligible countries. A maximum of seven project partners is permitted and a maximum of two partners from the same country per proposal.

UK applicants may apply for up to £437,500 for their contribution to projects (funded at 80 per cent of the full economic cost). The deadline is 14 March. Danielle Sagar, a programme manager at the Medical Research Council who is representing UKRI, gives a rundown of this complex but potentially highly rewarding call.

How would you summarise this call? 

The long title of the call—Interventions Moving Forward to Promote Action to Counteract the Emergence and Spread of Bacterial and Fungal Resistance and to Improve Treatments—has been shortened to one word: Impact. That summarises exactly what we are looking for. As this is the initiative’s last call in its current format, we are looking for real-world impacts to tie it all together. 

How can researchers establish an international team? 

On the initiative’s website, there is a partner search tool. Maybe you already have one partner in Spain, say, but you’re looking for that third partner since you need three different funding organisations to be involved. You can use that like a matchmaking tool.

How many projects is UKRI planning to support? 

It is hard to predict. Last year we funded 10 proposals, but that required us to double our commitment budget. We were highly oversubscribed. This year, we’ve committed £2 million again. The money has come from a strategic pot of money that covers all the council’s remits, because the initiative aligns with UKRI’s strategic theme of ‘tackling infection’. That also increases the remit and I am sure we will get a lot more applications than normal.

What balance do you expect between the two streams? 

Since topic two includes bacterial as well as fungal infection research, it will probably get slightly more applications. Also, proposals to that stream might address both fungal and bacterial infections within one project, which goes back to that cross-disciplinary nature of working. They might consider behavioural interventions that could apply to both fungal and bacterial pathogens, whereas more medically focused research would probably be more specific to a particular type of pathogen. 

Does the focus on fungal infections represent a development in research?

There is certainly a growing awareness of the impact of fungal infections on human populations. Because fungal infections have been largely restricted in the past to resource-limited settings, they may have been overlooked. Meanwhile, bacterial infections happen everywhere and are a high cause of mortality in many countries. But now that we’re gaining a greater understanding of fungal pathogens, we are realising they also deserve to be a priority.

What should applicants pay attention to in their bids? 

The assessment process is managed completely by the Joint Programming Initiative. UKRI does not contribute directly but does have some oversight. However, I know that one of the big issues that can lead to a straight rejection is remit. You must make sure that the UK component of the work is within the UKRI or research council remit. And all projects must have a human health focus: for example, an application to develop a novel fungal therapeutic against only fungal diseases in plants would not fly here. You could, however, research fungal infections in plants with the goal to derive a novel therapeutic for use in humans.

Also, be aware that it can be quite a confusing system. Although you’re applying to the initiative, there are certain documents that UKRI needs to see as well. This is further complicated by the fact that the initiative is working in euros and we fund in British pounds. Check the UKRI website, which clearly labels all documents that must be sent to us at the application stage. Also check the initiative’s website and see what they need from you and make sure you’re submitting to the right person. 

What is the future for the initiative?

A new partnership is being developed called One Health AMR. This is likely to be a continuation but also a bit of an expansion on the Joint Programming Initiative. What’s more, thanks to the UK’s association to Horizon Europe, UKRI will be participating. Researchers can expect to see the kinds of research calls that the initiative has been running, but with a change of focus based on the work being done as part of that partnership.  

This is an extract from an article in Research Professional’s Funding Insight service. To subscribe contact sales@researchresearch.com