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NIHR and UKRI move to new phase of COVID-19 research funding

Published: 15 June 2020

The NIHR and UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) have announced an evolution in their funding of COVID-19 research, having awarded more than £32 million into urgent research to tackle the acute phase of the pandemic.

The NIHR-UKRI COVID-19 rapid response initiative was established in February to fund rapid research addressing urgent needs in the face of the growing COVID-19 pandemic. 

The initiative is funding research that could deliver outcomes within 12 months, developing evidence to guide prevention, diagnosis and management of COVID-19 and the public health response to the pandemic. 

As the UK moves through the first wave of the COVID-19 outbreak, the nature of the questions that need to be addressed, the proof-of-concept data available and the need to link with existing activity are changing. In addition, in order to better understand and assess the impacts of this new disease, funding for longer than 12 months is desirable.

To meet the needs of this new environment, the NIHR-UKRI rapid response rolling funding call will close to new applications on 30 June 2020. 

The NIHR has launched a new Recovery and Learning funding call to better understand and manage the health and social care consequences of the global COVID-19 pandemic beyond the acute phase. This call is for research proposals of up to 24 months’ duration.

Under the UKRI umbrella, the Medical Research Council (MRC) will focus on funding research into COVID-19 mechanisms and interventions, and the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) will continue to accept social science led proposals on health and social care that do not fit with the NIHR call scope. 

MRC and ESRC applications should be submitted to the UKRI rolling call. The duration of individual grants available under this scheme is 18 months.

The NIHR and UKRI will continue to work closely together to monitor progress and disseminate learnings from our shared portfolio, and to consider applications that span our respective remits.

Professor David Heymann, Chair of the NIHR-UKRI Rapid Response Panel and Professor of Infectious Disease Epidemiology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said: “I’d like to personally thank the research community for rising to the ongoing challenge posed by COVID-19. 

“I’d also like to thank our review panels, ably supported by NIHR and MRC staff, who have worked tirelessly to assess proposals quickly, recognising the pressing need for this research.

“I know I speak for all colleagues on the panel when I say that we are proud of the research that we have funded through the NIHR-UKRI rapid response initiative. We look forward to the outcomes of these projects and our other awards contributing to the understanding, diagnosis, prevention and management of COVID-19, and to the results informing future clinical practice and public health.”

This portfolio of research funded by the NIHR-UKRI COVID-19 rapid response initiative comprises important studies that will help to address knowledge gaps in understanding, prevention and management of the COVID-19 pandemic. A number of these studies have been supported by NIHR’s Urgent Public Health process, a national process run by the NIHR Clinical Research Network that prioritises key COVID-19 studies for delivery by the health and care system.

Key studies include:

The initiative has also specifically called for research to investigate the association between ethnicity and COVID-19 incidence and adverse health outcomes.

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