Call 4. Laboratory preparedness for pandemics
Call closed, deadline February 1, 2021
The aim of this call was to seek suggestions (letters of intent) for proposals on how SciLifeLab should develop services and capabilities that help to detect and monitor the COVID-19 pandemic and eventually how to deal with general pandemic preparedness. Ideally these capabilities will be developed by the SciLifeLab infrastructure, or they can also include new proposals for SciLifeLab infrastructure services.
The primary purpose of this call is technology development and adaptation to enable comprehensive monitoring and detection of pathogenic viruses in people, in the environment, along with rapid sequencing and monitoring of host (immune) response.
What could be applied for?
SciLifeLab solicited suggestions (in a short letter of intent format) to develop services and capabilities to fight the COVID-19 pandemic and establish laboratory preparedness for future pandemics via improved technologies or strategies. The applicants were asked to commit to the development and implementation of national research capabilities, similar to previous Technology Development Projects (TDPs) or pilot unit calls at SciLifeLab.
Purely research projects were not supported, but projects demonstrating utility and deployment of the new capabilities in the case of monitoring the COVID-19 pandemic were not only welcome, but expected. Broad scale monitoring of viruses in other species or in the environment could only be supported if this could be considered directly and immediately relevant to pandemic preparedness. Ideally the capabilities are to be developed together with the existing SciLifeLab infrastructure, and could concern e.g. better methods for virus detection, serology, immunology, biomarkers and environmental virus profiling. Most proposals should address capabilities that could, within a short period of time (<6 mo), be deployed to manage the COVID-19 pandemic, but could then also form a sustainable long-term service to help preparedness for other pandemics.
This call focused on virus detection, and not on the other potential microbes that could have pandemic potential. Selected proposals have been asked to provide a detailed plan and applicants are asked to join in the planning of the national preparedness, after which a new plan, budget and proposal is created.
While proposals were also welcome from individual scientists, we expected most of the top-ranked proposals to include team science approaches, existing infrastructure components, and multi-disciplinary collaboration, including access to samples, clinical data, biobanks as well as data handling, analysis and data sharing aspects.
We expect research results, data, and methods, including code, to be released throughout the project according to the FAIR principles and as early as possible in the research process. The information sharing should be arranged with the COVID-19 data portal operated by SciLifeLab Data Centre. In particular, proposals based on patient material were asked to provide information about how samples would be made available for additional molecular profiling, and the efforts taken through consent collection and ethics approval to address data- and sample sharing.
The laboratory preparedness “letter of intent” call was about creating a nationally significant infrastructure capability and eventually facilitating the pandemic monitoring and management. The proposals needed to have the integration to real-world testing and proof of concept. This should be set up within a reasonable time-scale, such as a single year. The role of this program is to support health care, clinical laboratories as well as public and commercial sectors, and not to replicate or create a competing clinical testing capability. SciLifeLab’s primary role is not to act as a clinical laboratory.
This funding is also not meant for long-term research for development of an entirely new technology or for carrying out scientific research (outside of the need to validate the proposed capability). There is almost an unlimited number of different technologies that could theoretically have utility in detection of viruses. Over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, industrial efforts have produced 100s of such technologies to the market for use in health care, in central laboratories and for home testing. Such products have thus been extensively tested in the health care. Therefore, individual TDP-like applications of new untested or alternative testing methods without tangible benefits or an order of magnitude increased capability were very unlikely to be supported as they would replicate capabilities that are already commercially available. Also, efforts that make simple comparisons of e.g. different commercially available immunology or virus-testing test kits were not likely to receive support either from this call.
Who could apply?
All PIs and teams of PIs across Sweden who aims to structure their contributions in the form of pandemic preparedness and research capabilities and services to be done together with SciLifeLab infrastructure or as a new infrastructure service.
How much could be applied for?
Since this is a letter of intent, detailed budgets were not pre-defined, but applicants were asked to keep in mind that annual SciLifeLab support to a single well-established unit is 2-5 MSEK per year, while platforms with a broad repertoire of technologies receive more than 10 MSEK per year. Also, almost all SciLifeLab units and platforms also receive other infrastructure funding, to be considered as an aspect in planning the long-term capabilities.
Time period for funding: proposals should cover the years 2021-2022 as the setup period and proof of concept testing. The proposals should suggest how this service could potentially be continued as a SciLifeLab infrastructure service and how much would such maintenance funding be and how it could be covered besides the SciLifeLab support.
The national SciLifeLab funding covers all OH costs and LKP (payroll overhead) on personnel costs.
Evaluation process and timeline
Application deadline: February 1, 2021
March 25, 2021 – Evaluation of letters of intent by SciLifeLab Management Group, including selection of prioritized projects.
Information to all applicants on March 29
April, 2021 – Completion of proposals for prioritized projects
May, 2021 – Funding decision by SciLifeLab Board
June, 2021 – Start-up of selected projects