MRC to Launch Call to Investigate COVID-19 Vaccine Responses and Immune Failure

Call to open on 7 May will support projects investigating COVID-19 vaccine responses and/or immune failure that lead to either COVID-19 re-infection or vaccine breakthrough.

The Medical Research Council (MRC) has announced the future launch of a call addressing two major areas of importance in relation to immune control of SARS-CoV-2: vaccine responses and immune failure.

Despite the overwhelming success of the development of COVID-19 vaccines, many questions remain over their optimal delivery. The new call will specifically examine the nature and quality of COVID-19 vaccine responses, and/or the mechanisms of immune failure that lead to either COVID-19 re-infection or vaccine breakthrough.

Key questions relating to study of immune response to vaccination could include:

  • Assessment of vaccine responses across the life course.
  • Study of immune responses to vaccination in patients with immune suppression.
  • The contribution of innate and adaptive immune memory following vaccination and how this is influenced by different vaccine vectors.
  • Support of long-term maintenance of SARS-CoV-2-specific immune responses after vaccination and the potential need for booster vaccines.
  • Analysis of vaccine responses in relation to previous infection with viral variants.
  • Optimising vaccine design in order to obtain effective control against viral variants of concern.

Additionally, projects can examine the mechanisms that underlie cases of ‘immune failure’ leading to COVID-19 infection. Relevant questions that would be of interest in this area include:

  • Understanding the importance of ‘immune waning’ after natural infection or vaccination and how this might be mitigated.
  • Investigation of immune determinants of COVID-19 infection and disease severity, including by variants of concern, in vaccinated people.
  • The relative importance of humoral and cellular immunity in recognition of viral variants of concern and how this might be optimised.
  • Novel approaches to provide protection in patients with suboptimal immune responses following natural infection or vaccination.

It is anticipated that some applications will address both areas of interest. However, this is not mandatory and a focused study that investigates either vaccine-induced immunity or mechanisms of immune failure is within scope.

Principal investigators (PIs) may only submit one application as a PI, but may be involved in more applications if listed as a co-investigator. The lead applicant should be based at an eligible research organisation. These include:

  • Higher education institutions.
  • UKRI-approved independent research organisations or NHS bodies.
  • Government-funded organisations.
  • MRC institutes.
  • MRC units and partnership institutes.
  • Institutes and units funded by other research councils.

Public sector research establishments (PSREs) are also eligible to apply provided they complete the appropriate eligibility form stating they have the capacity and capability required by UKRI.

Applications may be either focused on specific challenges or comprise large and broad consortia. Overseas researchers may be co-investigators, if they provide necessary expertise or access to resources not available in the UK. Collaboration with industry is also welcomed.

The total value of the fund is £3 million to support three to four projects. Projects must start by 13 August 2021 and can last for up to 12 months.

Applications should be submitted between 7 May and 8 June 2021.