What funders are looking for

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The challenges of assembling applications for funding is a reality of being a researcher. To apply your efforts effectively you need to choose your funder carefully. They will be prioritising research that aligns most closely with their own strategy and objectives.  

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Panels will assess whether your background aligns with the project. They will look at how you have addressed the gaps in your expertise through the team you have assembled and the help your institution is willing to provide.

Panels need evidence that you have the support of your institution. For example, for New Investigator Research Grants, MRC require a signed statement of support from your research institution and it is important that they also demonstrate their commitment to the you as a potential future Principle Investigator. The suitability of the environment and the organisation’s commitment are significant factors in the Boards’ consideration of New Investigator Research Grant proposals.

The best research projects are collaborative so ask yourself who at your institution will support your project. If you need skills your institution cannot provide, then set out where you will find these in your application.

In short, it is vital to present a clear and complete picture of how you will produce impactful science.

Here, we will focus on the major non-disease-specific UK health research funders. We also offer advice on other funders such as the engineering and biosciences research councils.

The three main funders are:

  • Medical Research Council (MRC)
  • National Institute of Health Research (NIHR)
  • Wellcome Trust

All three of these fund asthma research, but they have distinct missions and funding strategies that you should consider.

Consider funders carefully and do not just dismiss one because it has previously funded very little in your field. If you are confident in your idea and are eligible, then funders want to hear from you.

Major funders at a glance


  • Focuses on basic health research. It has a wide-ranging remit and strategy but also funds specific areas it sees as being strategically important.
  • The focus for its response-mode funding is “innovative discovery research addressing fundamental, clinical, or population-based problems… research that is likely to make a real difference to clinical practice and the health of the population”. Although this is hard to define, MRC sets out clear instructions throughout the application process.


  • Focuses on applied science that has the potential to benefit patients and the NHS.
  • Most strategic of the three funders. It asks applicants to present a clear route for how their research findings will be adopted and used to improve health outcomes and to give a clear link to patient benefit.
  • Applications must demonstrate how they align with NIHR’s priorities.

The Wellcome Trust

  • A politically and financially independent foundation.
  • Its over-arching objective is funding the best science. It does not have specific strategic aims and funds very few restricted calls. The focus is on funding the best ideas that apply.

Other funders

  • The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council’s (EPSRC) Healthcare Technologies programme will be relevant to researchers with an interest in tech-enabled asthma management, asthma data and diagnostics.

  • Innovate UK works with people, companies and partner organisations to find and drive the science and technology innovations that will grow the UK economy. They drive growth by working with companies to de-risk, enable and support innovation.

For the full list of UK government Research Councils, please see UK Research and Innovation.

Association of Medical Research Charities (AMRC)

Asthma + Lung UK is a member of the AMRC, a group of >140 UK charities that together spent £1.6bn on medical and health research in the UK in 2017 alone, accounting for 47% of all publicly-funded medical research in the UK that year. Many are disease-specific and will not be relevant to asthma researchers. However, look at the AMRC website to check for any overlap with your work. For example, some AMRC charities focus on child health or smoking, which could be relevant.

Once you have chosen which funder to apply to:

Read our advice on preparing a strong application

Read more about more grants and funding

Find out more about the types of opportunities we fund

Find out about our open calls