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Discovery Awards scheme


Discovery Awards - flexible institutional funding for new research

The Discovery Awards scheme provides awards of £400k-£1m to institutions to support discovery research in areas with potential for development, which are strategically sound within the institution’s strategy, and are also important nationally.

The awards are intended to be flexible - giving scope to support recruitment or initial development of new PIs at junior levels, and/or to support linked pilot work, or technology and methods development. The Discovery Awards scheme is a pilot, expected to run for two years in the first instance.


The objective of Discovery Awards is to provide a new mechanism for MRC to work strategically with universities via a developmental award, focused on basic science. The award could be used in a variety of ways to develop a coherent scientific area or theme. The longer term goal might be either:

  • Development within the university – e.g. progressing a new area towards large Programme award(s), developing new technology platforms, or progress towards a new centre of excellence, or
  • Cross institution development – e.g. achieving novel scientific strength through links between universities in the UK or internationally


All areas of discovery research relevant to the MRC's remit will be considered and interdisciplinary interactions, for example by linking with physical sciences, mathematics and social sciences, are welcomed. Applications may be broad in scope or focused on a particular area.

Successful institutions will be expected to use the award to initiate and build critical mass and capacity in otherwise underexplored, high-potential areas of research, which may not yet be at par with more established fields, and which may be risky, but where there is clear vision for development. However, applicants will need to demonstrate some credible, if small, scientific capability either in the proposed area, or closely related areas, at the time of application.

The funding is not intended to support:

  • Continuation of normal research grants
  • Research directed at generating or validating preliminary data for a ‘follow-on’ grant from already established lines of enquiry
  • Administration costs
  • Staff between posts/funding (i.e. as “bridging” funds), or PhD studentships

2015 MRC Discovery Awards - Results

The 2015 MRC Discovery Awards Panel meeting made 12 awards.

The following proposals received funding to establish novel and innovative approaches to research:

Accelerating Discovery: New integrated approaches to uncover the brain’s regulation of body weight

University of Aberdeen

Placing Discovery Science at the heart of Big Data

University of Birmingham

Genomics & Microfluidics: taking Cell Biology into the era of Big Data

University of Edinburgh

Capacity Building in Redox Biology

University of Glasgow

The molecular bases for Ebola virus replication, pathogenesis and protection.

King’s College London

Capacity building in single cell inflammation discovery: developing the next generation of scientists

University of Manchester

23Na MRI: New frontiers in clinical imaging and diagnostics

University of Nottingham

Developing an initiative in stem cell editing for human genetic diseases.

University of Oxford

Maths, Engineering and Life Sciences: making connections for precision medicine

University of Southampton

A window into the brain: Imaging neural circuits involved in behaviour and neuropathologies

University of Sussex

Imaging neural activity in freely-behaving rodents at the single cell level

University of Warwick

Biophysics of Infection and Immunity: From Molecules to Cells to Tissues

University of York

Awards and eligibility

Institutions may apply for an award between £400k and £1m. Applicants are expected to demonstrate substantial and proportional commitment from the host institution. This commitment should be novel and specific to the activity detailed within the case for support. The award will be for 18 months and MRC funds will be available for this duration. Successful institutions are expected to allocate funds to projects within the first 12-24 months of the award. The funding is designed to provide ‘lead time’ to create sustained commitments and secure additional support; project scope should extend beyond the initial award period.

The normal MRC 'response mode' eligibility rules apply. Please see the guidance for applicants’ (PDF, 830KB) and the Research Councils UK website.

Only one application per institution is permitted (an exception may be made where an institution also wishes to participate in a focused collaborative application – this should be discussed with us prior to application). Applications must demonstrate the support of senior leadership from the host institution (e.g. Dean of Medical School or equivalent).

An additional joint application from groups of institutions is permitted – consortia may be able to demonstrate potential to add value that individual institutions cannot, and these joint applications may request higher levels of funding than would be considered justified for a single HEI (although within the £1.0m limit).


Institutions thinking of applying for this scheme are encouraged to contact the Programme Manager, Dr Neha Issar-Brown (, 0207 395 2264), in the first instance, to discuss the prospective bid.

For general queries about this scheme, please contact: