Given the recent success of the Translational Research Office (TRO) in increasing the funding volume available to the Medical and Life Sciences Translational Fund (MLSTF) we are pleased to announce an earlier return of the next round for MLSTF. MLSTF supports proof-of-concept projects at the early stages of translation that are of high risk but with potential of high reward. It funds researchers to accelerate the transition from discovery research to translational development projects by supporting preliminary work or feasibility studies to establish the viability of a translational approach. This fund does not support exploratory basic science.
Comprising of devolved funding from MRC, Wellcome IP Revenue Retention Funds, NIHR BRC Revenue Funds, with some additional aligned funding, MLSTF is a consolidated fund where in 2024, the project managed fund will be approximately £1.5M to ‘pump-prime’ the translation of novel therapeutics, devices, diagnostics, artificial intelligence and digital technologies in healthcare and other therapeutic interventions (including ‘repurposing of existing therapies’) toward clinical testing.
New and Improved Award Scheme Key Highlights
Following feedback from key stakeholders, including previous applicants and award holders, MLSTF has undergone transformational changes with the ambition to increase the quality of applications submitted to MLSTF that have great potential in creating commercial, clinical, societal or global impact. Our revamped MLSTF scheme offers a dedicated stepping stone opportunity for early career researchers to enhance their skillset and pursue their translational research endeavours.
Key changes to the scheme include:
- An increase in funding volume per project from £75k to £85k
- A dedicated route termed “Emerging Translational Innovators (ETI)” which provides an opportunity for early career researchers to use this fund as a stepping stone towards independently pursuing their translational research endeavours*.
- A softened cap on the maximum number of applications from two to three per applicant (as PI, or Co-I) **
- Availability of dedicated funds to achieve clinical impact through clinical translation and human applications.
The Fund supports goal-oriented translational research projects with a strong scientific rationale and which meet a clear and important translational medical need. Projects should also demonstrate distinct advantages over competing translational approaches that are in development or are already available in the marketplace. Projects should aim to provide sufficient preliminary data to establish proof of concept, strategic merit in a translational context, or the viability of a translational approach (i.e. to provide confidence in the underlying concept, before seeking more substantial funding from other sources), such as MRC Developmental Pathway Funding Scheme (DPFS), or equivalent schemes from other funders, or from industry.
An explicit outcome of the award of MLSTF is that projects should have a complete package of scientific and technical data and subsequently be strong candidates for highly competitive external follow-on translational funding.
To be competitive, the project proposal should identify a critical path for generating preliminary proof-of-concept data and reaching a value of inflection point that supports moving to the next stage of translation. The project should be milestone-based with clearly articulated and quantifiable markers, which will form the basis of a rigorous monitoring process that will take place throughout the project's lifetime. All modalities of therapy and diagnostics including engineering/medical technology and bioinformatics approaches are welcomed. The research areas under which applications have been supported in the past include infection, immunity & AMR, vaccine science, oncology, neuroscience, mental health, rare diseases and regenerative medicine.
Applications demonstrating academic-industry collaboration are particularly encouraged, principles and policies of a MRC Industry Collaboration Framework (ICF) should be followed, with heads of terms being agreed with partners prior to application submission. Please contact your local Research Services team who will be able to assist with this. Where the partner is an existing or prospective spinout, there must be a strong and clear case that the proposed project is a new stream of work and not additional development of the initial technology that was licenced to the spinout. It should also be clear that the spinout is the most appropriate company to support this particular project. A clear statement of how conflict of interest will be managed must be included.
Emerging Translational Innovators (ETI)
* Please note, the remit around the dedicated MLSTF-ETI route, with the ETI being the principal applicant is as follows:
- ETIs here are defined as Oxford employed-, early career researchers which includes post-doctoral researcher, clinical researchers, or junior group leaders within the first few years of independence and/or on their first permanent, open-ended or long-term rolling contract.
- Volume of funding available is up to £50K, for projects lasting 6-8 months in duration.
- The ETI must obtain approval from their PI/line manager confirming support and/or permission to undertake the proposed activity stated in the application, subject to award recommendation by the MLSTF committee.
- The ETI will be required to officially identify a mentor who will support the ETI and their proposed research workplan.
- The ETI together with the mentor is required to carve out the expected skill sets to gain/develop during the proposal and how this application would support the ETIs future aspirations.
- ETIs must use the main MLSTF case for support application but with the above outlined limits on funding volume and project duration.
- ETIs are highly encouraged to attend a training session in Jan 2024 with an aligned expert either identified by themselves as mentor or by the TRO through its Experts in Residence Network.
** Please note that this year we have softened the cap on the maximum number of applications that are allowed per applicant to be three applications. One can be named as PI or co-PI on a maximum of three applications per research group and therefore it is expected that an internal triage is performed within research groups in order to select the best applications to be submitted to the scheme.
It is envisaged that the available funds will finance in the region of 16-18 projects, with the Translational Research Office (TRO) providing project management support for the scheme and projects where appropriate.
Funding available from MLSTF will be up to £85k per project (for non-ETI applicants) and up to £50k (for ETI applicants); awards will be made from MLSTF for direct costs only. Whilst a ‘match’ contribution is not mandatory, it is strongly encouraged. The cost of individual projects in this case can be up to £170k with applicants being required to demonstrate at least 50% matching from another source of the direct costs awarded.
Projects should be in the region of 6-12 months (for non-ETI applicants) and 6-8 months (for ETI applicants), with funding for 12-month projects requiring full justification. Awards must commence within 1 month of the award being issued. All projects must be completed within 1 year of the start date and/or in line with overarching MRC grant conditions. Please ensure that your project is scheduled accordingly and that the timeline is appropriate to the objectives and milestones set out.
Please note funding will not support: entire translational projects; bridging funding or PhD studentships; continuation of normal research grants; and costs relating to protection of intellectual property. Please also note that PI or co-applicant salary is not an eligible cost. Awards will be managed from the Translational Research Office on behalf of the University. Applications, scores and reviewer comments may be shared with other internal University panels to ensure maximum value for money. An award condition is acceptance of a ‘mid-term’ review meeting with the Translational Research Office and a panel of experts to discuss progress made towards milestones.
Co-funding with EPSRC IAA
For life sciences researchers with underpinning research funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), there is an opportunity to access some EPSRC-IAA funding. Applicants are encouraged to select the relevant, aligned research area in the case for support application form which will assist the TRO in aligning and administrating the proposal for EPSRC co-funding consideration.
NIHR Oxford Biomedical Research Centre (BRC)
The TRO is partnering with the NIHR Oxford BRC to support early-stage translational research proposals with a clear link to translational patient benefit and clinical implementation. This opportunity is open to researchers working for either Oxford University or Oxford University Hospitals Trust (if working for OUH you will be expected to have an honorary contract with an Oxford University department to access these funds. If you do not have an honorary contract then please contact email@example.com to discuss further). Applications that fall under this remit must select the NIHR research area option in the main case for support application form. Please note that animal work is NOT permitted within these proposals.
University Challenge Seed Fund
Applicants should also note that the University Challenge Seed Fund will open on 4 January 2024 and that Oxford University Innovation (OUI) will accept applications based on a first-come-first-served basis. The call will close on 22 February 2024. OUI will stop reviewing applications sent after this date. In this instance, two separate proposals would be submitted to each scheme (UCSF, MLSTF) and would be reviewed by their respective committee members.
Researchers should engage with both the TRO and OUI to discuss potential match funding models. The lead contact from OUI for UCSF is Dr Naunehal Matharu (Naunehal.Matharu@innovation.ox.ac.uk)