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UKRI has funded 49 out of 999 emergency Covid-19 bids to date

UK Research and Innovation reveals initial success numbers for rapid-response coronavirus grants

The UK’s national research funder is seeing “an extremely high level of interest” in the Covid-19 rapid-response research call it launched on 31 March—but so far it has funded only 49 of the 999 applications received.

UK Research and Innovation says it aims to provide an initial response to applications to the call within two weeks, but Research Professional News understands that some applicants have been waiting for more than a month for a reply on time-sensitive proposals, with some being told that the research councils were dealing with “unprecedented levels" of applications. 

A spokesperson for UKRI told Research Professional News: “We aim to provide an initial response within two weeks. For proposals for Innovate UK funding, additional due diligence is necessary, which takes a little longer. It is therefore not possible to give an average turnaround time at this stage.”

The funded projects are to receive at least £8 million in total, but the funder declined to specify the overall budget for the call. UKRI was also unable to provide exact data on success rates.

“It is too early to provide a robust figure for success rates,” the spokesperson said. “Many proposals are still being assessed, and will be for some time to come as it’s an open call.”

UKRI could not say how the numbers compared with its previous urgent calls, as it would “take quite a while to dig through a lot of historical data”.

“It is an unprecedented situation,” Charlotte Deane, who leads the open call and is deputy executive chair of the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, told Research Professional News. “Research teams across the UK and staff at UKRI have worked incredibly hard to ensure vital research is identified and funded quickly, and that robust procedures are still adhered to.”

She noted that, for example, the full funding process for another rapid-response call, by the Medical Research Council and the National Institute for Health Research in February, was completed in just four weeks from the opening of the call to the start of the awards.

“To expedite this funding to successful applicants, the application process has been streamlined like never before and our bespoke application form requires a minimum of information to reduce the administrative burden on all applicants at this time.”

In addition to the rolling call, UKRI and the NIHR have so far jointly invested £24.6m in 27 research projects to respond to the Covid-19 pandemic, including research on treatments, vaccines and the spread of the virus.

With several partners, the funder has also launched a national clinical trial initiative, a project to sequence Covid-19 patient genomes and a £20m alliance to map the spread of coronavirus through sequencing of the virus genome.

And as part of UKRI’s response, several other open calls are ongoing, including a call for research on the risk factors, transmission and prevalence of coronavirus; a joint call with the NIHR for research on Covid-19 and ethnicity; and an international Covid-19 call to support the world’s most vulnerable people.

The UKRI’s rolling call for funding ideas that address Covid-19 remains open.

20/05 UPDATE – this story was updated with the latest figures