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Research councils lay foundations for ambitious new research programmes for global health

Copyright: NikiLitov, iStock
News from: Global Challenges Research Fund

Research councils join forces to harness the UK’s world-class research expertise to improve the health and prosperity of billions of people in low and middle income countries

The research councils have together announced the first phase of health research awards from the new £1.5 billion Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF), addressing issues affecting people in low and middle income countries (LMICs) using the UK’s world-class research expertise.

MRC, AHRC, BBSRC, ESRC and NERC are allocating over £20 million to 41 short-term projects across 39 UK research organisations working in partnership with up to 32 different countries around the world. These will complement existing UK strengths in global health research, exploring new more diverse opportunities; building broader multidisciplinary links and new partnerships in LMICs.

The awards focus on two areas covering Non-Communicable Disease (MRC led) and Infection (MRC led). New research awards in Global Agriculture and Food Systems (BBSRC led) will be announced early in 2017.

The awards support moderately sized, short to medium-term investments spanning diverse research specialisms. The aim is to target new, innovative and multidisciplinary research that will meet the existing or future health needs of LMICs. A principal objective will also be to strengthen LMIC / UK research partnerships in order to champion world-class research.

Declan Mulkeen, the MRC’s Chief of Strategy said: “The five research councils involved in the Foundation Awards have been working collectively to provide new and broader approaches to meet global research challenges. It’s encouraging to see these projects tackling the broader environmental and economic factors affecting health, as well as using new technologies to bring cost-effective treatments within reach.”

He added: “The MRC has a strong track record in Global Health research, often in partnership. Infectious disease has been the main focus and remains the largest area of funding, but as countries develop, their health needs change. The Global Challenges Research Fund will enable us to tackle a broader range of health problems, for local and global benefit.

“These awards represent a significant win for global research. We hope that many of the research partnerships being supported will move on to even more ambitious work over the coming years.”

Investments made through the GCRF will address global challenges through multidisciplinary research, strengthening capability for research and innovation within both the UK and low and middle income countries.

BBSRC Chief Executive, Professor Melanie Welham added “These new projects will help ensure that the UK‘s research base helps tackle a variety of global challenges. Working in partnership across research councils and other funders, the Global Challenges Research Fund will help invest in research that will ultimately improve quality of life for people across the globe.”


Notes to editors

  • BBSRC will be contributing up to £20 million across the three calls
  • MRC will be contributing up to £20 million across the three calls
  • AHRC will be contributing up to £1.75 million and ESRC £3 million across the calls, with NERC contributing up to £800,000, allocated on a case by case basis

For specific call details, visit:

Agriculture and Food Systems call (~£15 million)

The challenge of ensuring access to a safe, sufficient and nutritious diet for a healthy life – whilst maintaining a healthy agri-environment – will intensify as demand for food rises with an increasing global population, urbanisation and changing diets. At the same time as ensuring a sustainable food supply chain, food production systems need to cope with climatic, political and financial instabilities, changes in cultures of consumption, and the need to protect and manage finite natural resources in order to foster more resilient systems, and align with public health goals.

These challenges are particularly acute in Lower and Middle Income Countries (LMICs) thus addressing these will help deliver the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. New research is needed to help produce sufficient levels of safe food for a healthy life-course, using less land, water and energy, ensuring maintenance of the natural capital stocks and ecosystems services for future generations, whilst also engaging with the needs of local communities.

BBSRC’s usual eligibility rules will apply to this food security call with an emphasis on providing the foundations for ODA (Official Development Assistance)-relevant research by UK institutions – including the establishment/strengthening of partnerships with colleagues in LMICs who may be named in proposals as project partners.

Global infection call (~£9 million)

The recent outbreaks of Ebola and Zika, annual bird/swine flu endemics, threats to the safety of our food, the growing danger of antimicrobial resistance and the on-going global burden of foot and mouth disease, malaria and tuberculosis illustrate the large-scale challenge that infectious diseases continue to pose to human and farmed animal health.

This challenge arises from a complex interplay between social, cultural, ecological and biological factors and is exacerbated by our rapidly changing climate and increased urbanisation and globalisation. Understanding and addressing the challenge of infectious disease, including its prevention and management, requires a systems approach, able to map and interrogate the broad range of driving factors and the linkages between them. Such an approach benefits from the pooling of expertise and knowledge of sector specialists in inter-disciplinary teams.

Non-communicable diseases call (~£19 million)

The health needs of LMICs are evolving. With improving infrastructures for the prevention and treatment of infectious diseases and increasing relative prosperity driving urbanisation and changing patterns of physical activity, diet, and tobacco and alcohol consumption, non-communicable diseases represent the new health challenge. These health challenges were responsible for 63% of all global deaths in 2008, a figure projected to rise to 75% by 2030.

A more complete global research approach to non-communicable disease will benefit medical science and interdisciplinary research in developed countries as well as LMICs. Understanding wider and more extreme variation in diet, in environment, in behaviours or in early life; and a more complete understanding of human biological and cultural variability, will undoubtedly give new insights into universal processes in human health and disease.

What is GCRF?

The Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) is a £1.5 billion fund announced by the UK government to support cutting-edge research which addresses the problems faced by developing countries. The fund, to be administered through delivery partners including the research councils and national academies, will address global challenges through disciplinary and interdisciplinary research, strengthen capability for research and innovation, within both UK and developing countries and provide an agile response to emergencies and opportunities.

Case studies available with images and some multimedia content

While no case studies are available which specifically relate to these new calls, below are some examples of how UK funding, combined with UK science expertise and international partnerships have had a real impact in low and middle income countries:

About AHRC

The Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) funds world-class, independent researchers in a wide range of subjects: history, archaeology, digital content, philosophy, languages, design, heritage, area studies, the creative and performing arts, and much more. This financial year the AHRC will spend approximately £98 million to fund research and postgraduate training in collaboration with a number of partners. The quality and range of research supported by this investment of public funds not only provides social and cultural benefits and contributes to the economic success of the UK but also to the culture and welfare of societies around the globe.


BBSRC invests in world-class bioscience research and training on behalf of the UK public. Our aim is to further scientific knowledge, to promote economic growth, wealth and job creation and to improve quality of life in the UK and beyond.

Funded by government, BBSRC invested £473 million in world-class bioscience, people and research infrastructure in 2015-16. We support research and training in universities and strategically funded institutes. BBSRC research and the people we fund are helping society to meet major challenges, including food security, green energy and healthier, longer lives. Our investments underpin important UK economic sectors, such as farming, food, industrial biotechnology and pharmaceuticals.

More information about BBSRC, our science and our impact.
More information about BBSRC strategically funded institutes.

About ESRC

The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) is the UK’s largest funder of research on the social and economic questions facing us today. It supports the development and training of the UK’s future social scientists and also funds major studies that provide the infrastructure for research. ESRC-funded research informs policymakers and practitioners and helps make businesses, voluntary bodies and other organisations more effective. ESRC also works collaboratively with six other UK research councils and Innovate UK to fund cross-disciplinary research and innovation addressing major societal challenges. The ESRC is an independent organisation, established by Royal Charter in 1965, and funded mainly by the Government.

About MRC

The Medical Research Council (MRC) is at the forefront of scientific discovery to improve human health. Founded in 1913 to tackle tuberculosis, the MRC now invests taxpayers’ money in some of the best medical research in the world across every area of health. Thirty-one MRC-funded researchers have won Nobel prizes in a wide range of disciplines, and MRC scientists have been behind such diverse discoveries as vitamins, the structure of DNA and the link between smoking and cancer, as well as achievements such as pioneering the use of randomised controlled trials, the invention of MRI scanning, and the development of a group of antibodies used in the making of some of the most successful drugs ever developed. Today, MRC-funded scientists tackle some of the greatest health problems facing humanity in the 21st century, from the rising tide of chronic diseases associated with ageing to the threats posed by rapidly mutating micro-organisms.

About NERC

The Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) is the UK's main agency for funding and managing research, training and knowledge exchange in the environmental sciences. Our work covers the full range of atmospheric, Earth, biological, terrestrial and aquatic science, from the deep oceans to the upper atmosphere and from the poles to the equator. We co-ordinate some of the world's most exciting research projects, tackling major issues such as climate change, environmental influences on human health, the genetic make-up of life on Earth, and much more. NERC is a non-departmental public body. We receive around £330 million of annual funding from the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS).

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