PCRC Grant Call: What next?

Last November, we launched an open, competitive grant call to find our next research projects. Our Communications Research Executive, Naomi, tells us about the process and what happens next.

Update May 2019: Stage 2 applications are being reviewed by independent experts (peer review), and a panel of people directly affected by prostate cancer. Update March 2019: All of our applicants have now been contacted. Shortlisted applicants have until 30 April 2019 to return a full application to us for the next stage of assessment.

Why an open, competitive grant call?

When I joined PCRC last September, the charity was clearly at a very exciting stage. Although the charity had a great history, the team were forward-thinking, looking for ways to grow and improve upon what PCRC already did so well. Some fantastic work had been done by my colleagues, and the charity had substantially increased its income.

We now have enough resources to grow our research by 75% in a single year. We want to fund the best research we possibly could, so we invited any researcher at a UK institution to apply for funding.

Why was the form so short?

Having worked in cancer research labs, I’ve seen many talented scientists spend a long time on funding applications, which takes away from the time they spend on research. The most frustrating thing about this is that people can spend weeks writing pages and pages for an application, when it could be rejected on the basis of their first paragraph.

We know that without funding, research can’t happen, but we do believe scientists should spend most of their time in the lab. For this reason, we designed a short, two page Expression of Interest (EOI) form. Scientists could fill this in relatively quickly, but it still gives us enough information to decide whether an application is relevant to our focus on advanced prostate cancer. People only need to submit a full application if their proposal has been shortlisted, cutting down on wasted time.

How did you do it?

This was the first time we had run a grant call on this scale, and we know we don’t yet have the same profile as other, larger research charities. We knew it would be challenging to get applications – one of our scientific advisers said that if we got more than 15, he would eat his hat!

To contact every single university and cancer research centre in the UK was going to be impossible, as we have such a small staff team and so many important jobs to do. We used the Research Excellence Framework, which ranks UK universities according to their research, to narrow down the list of who to contact. We went through university research offices rather than contacting individual scientists to keep the process as open as possible – and because, with so many great scientists in the UK, we would have needed several armies to call every single one!

So, after all that, did anyone apply?

The period coming up to Christmas was a bit tense. We’d put in a lot of work setting up this process and it would have been incredibly disappointing if no one applied. To put us under even more pressure, our CEO, Oliver, repeatedly reminded us of our mission to watch someone eat a hat.

We were delighted when a few applications trickled in just before we closed for Christmas, but we needn’t have worried, because by the time the deadline rolled around we had an amazing 34 applications.

What kind of applications did you get?

Applications came in from universities all over the UK, and all are very high quality. Some of the ideas include the immune system, finding new ways to target the androgen receptor, radiotherapy, medical imaging, AI, and potential new therapies.

Some common scientific themes from our 2018 Grant Call applications.

Some common scientific themes from our 2018 Grant Call applications.

What happens now?

Our Triage Committee is reviewing the 34 EOIs and will soon decide which applications to take further. People on the shortlist will be invited to submit a more detailed application, which will undergo an extensive peer-review process.

What would you do differently next time?

Overall, we’re very happy with how everything went, but we had some queries from scientists which made us realise some of our terms and conditions could have clearer. We’re working on a project right now to involve prostate cancer patients and their families much more in all of our activities, and we hope to have a patient committee as an integral part of the process next time.

So, what are you doing about the hat?

In celebration of receiving 34 great applications, we baked a cake. In the shape of a hat…

If you would like to be kept up to date with future grant opportunities, send an email with "Grant Call Opt-in" in the subject line, your name and contact email to grants@pcr.org.uk

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