Select Committee on Science and Technology Minutes of Evidence

Supplementary memorandum by the Medical Research Council


Committee Question: What is the success rate of applications to MRC in infections research compared to other areas? What is the relative success of basic and clinical research?

Summary: About 22 per cent of grant and fellowship applications to the MRC is in the area of infections, and the award rates in infections research (39 per cent) are closely similar to those for all awards (37 per cent). The pattern for clinical schemes indicates that infections proposals do relatively well.


  1.  To answer the Committee's question about award rates[4], we sampled a five year funding period, identifying all grants and personal fellowships with an end date in the five-year period 1 April 1997 to 31 March 2002. To identify the patterns for MRC direct support in its establishments, it was more practical to sample the one-year period 1 April 2000 to 31 March 2003.

  2.  For the award rate analysis, the definition of infections is broad and includes some research (~10 per cent) on prion diseases, or pathogens or immunology other than in the context of infections[5]. This definition is an MRC standard, which allows us to run various research management analyses on a standard data set.

  3.  Our expenditure on infections research was between £42 million and £46 million for the year 2001-02. The upper figure relates to the broad definition, corresponding to the dataset used in this award rate analysis and in our evidence to the committee in October 2002. The lower figure uses a narrower definition, excluding work on prions, pathogens and immunology not related to infections. Data on the relative success of "infections" compared "all awards" is not affected by which of the two datasets is used.


All grants and fellowships

  4.  One thousand six hundred and eighty nine (22 per cent) of the 7,612 grants and fellowships applications in the five-year sample were concerned with infections broadly.

  5.  Six hundred and sixty five (39 per cent) of the 1,689 infections applications were awarded. This was almost identical to the award rate of all applications ("all areas") in the sample (37 per cent).

Clinical fellowships and professorships

  6.  Of the 1,689 applications relevant to infections, 231 were submitted for clinical fellowships and professorships[6].

  7.  One hundred and fourteen (49 per cent) of the 231 infections applications were awarded. While this appears high compared to the award rate of 19 per cent across all areas in the sample, it can be accounted for by high variation in award rates between schemes and across time. The evidence does not suggest that "infections" applications are systematically significantly more successful than other areas of clinical research.

Five-year programme grants

  8.  The renewable, five year programme grant is MRC's principal means of funding long term programmes of research proposed by university-based senior investigators. Fifty seven per cent were awarded in the infections sample, compared to 52 per cent for all areas.

  9.  There are two points to note.

    —  While programme grants appear relatively successful, a significant proportion of potential applications are withdrawn by proposers after a preliminary assessment[7]; these data relate to the formal assessment and do not include the preliminary stage.

    —  In this five-year sample, the infections category had fewer programme grants and more short term awards than did all areas combined.


  10.  There were 108 directly supported MRC programmes concerned with infections.

  11.  Forty nine programmes were submitted for review as part of the quinquennial reviews of seven of MRC's UK-based establishments. Two programmes were closed or discontinued.

  12.  In addition, the future programmes proposed by the MRC Laboratory in The Gambia are being re-submitted.


  1.  Award rates for infections research have been similar to those in other areas of research supported by the Council. If anything, infections rates have been slightly higher, particularly in the smaller clinical schemes.

  2.  Nevertheless, Council is developing its research strategy in infections so as to respond to public and professional concerns about infections. We are doing so in partnership with other organisations, building on our various strengths, exploiting new opportunities and tackling challenging gaps. The House of Lord's S&T Committee's deliberations are a welcome and important addition to the debate.

4   We have used the term award rate rather than success rate. Back

5   Because much of MRC's research crosses disease and disciplinary boundaries, mapping individual awards to particular scientific areas is not exact. Use of broad definitions has the merit of reflecting the multidisciplinarity of research. Narrower definitions help when focusing on particular issues. Back

6   These figures for clinical fellowships and professorships usefully illustrate award rates, but they are not useful for indicating the overall amount of clinical work. This is because clinical research is also embedded in other schemes. We have not tried to look at clinical "success" in these other schemes because the clinical work often forms only one part of a programme or project and is therefore difficult to extract for analysis. Back

7   Typically, researchers submit an informal "outline programme grant application" on which expert advice is sought. Following feedback, about half of the proposers decide not to submit formally. We have not routinely collated data on this preliminary stage; our award rate data relate to the formal applications.


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