Peer review

Peer review forms the basis of funding decisions at CRUK. When you apply to us for research funding, your application will be taken through a thorough peer review assessment process.

Depending on the funding you’ve applied for, this can include assessment by an expert review panel or an interview. Final funding decisions are made by our funding committees.

How we award research funding

In order to beat cancer sooner, we fund high quality research that aligns with our Research Strategy. Independent scientific experts in the research community make recommendations for funding in accordance with our strategy and within the budgets we set.

We have a range of funding opportunities, each of which fall under the remit of one of our expert funding committees. Our grants are awarded in open competition and only after all funding applications are scrutinised through scientific peer review by appropriately qualified experts.

We are a member of the Association of Medical Research Charities (AMRC) and as such we follow the AMRC’s high standards and recommended principles of peer review:

  • Accountability
  • Balance
  • Independent decision making
  • Rotation of scientific advisors
  • Impartiality

All our schemes are designed to ensure we fund the highest quality, internationally competitive science and the best researchers, judged through a fair, robust and transparent process.

The review process for each scheme depends on the duration, cost and strategic priority of the grant. We use a multi-tiered peer review process to ensure scientific rigour and strategic fit. Funding applications are assessed by a combination of steps described below:

Application submitted
Funding committee outline review* A short-form application outline will be reviewed by the Funding Committee. Successful applicants are then invited to submit a more detailed application (called a ‘full application’).
Expert Review Panel* Applications may be assessed by an Expert Review Panel (ERP); panel members include some overlap with members of the funding committee. For large grants this will include an interview where the panel members will provide written comments to the applicant(s) beforehand. ERPs provide a scientific quality score. Where a review panel needs additional, specialist expertise in order to review an application, we will ask other scientific experts to provide written comments if necessary. 
Funding committee review Members take into account the quality assessment of ERPs but also consider the strategic importance and portfolio fit before making a funding decision. 
Funding issued
Reports Depending on the type of research, award holders may submit either annual or milestone reports. These are assessed by the funding committee.

*Some schemes omit one or both of these stages

As of our Spring 2021 funding round, we are changing the way we operate our peer review process to reduce the burden of written peer review on our research community. Instead, where relevant, our expert review panels will thoroughly assess the applications, providing written comments to applicant(s) prior to interview.

Our peer reviewers

To ensure we fund the best quality science and researchers, we operate a rigorous review process to make funding decisions.

We ask external, independent, leading scientists, clinicians, health policy specialists and patient representatives to sit on our panels and committees to review applications submitted to us. We aim to engage the most appropriate reviewers that are nationally/internationally competitive researchers, who have expertise relevant to the applicant’s proposal.

We rely on the expertise and impartiality of our reviewers to advise us and make the best possible funding decisions. We ask all our reviewers to declare any potential conflicts of interest before carrying out peer review, so that funding decisions are not influenced, or perceived to be influenced, by factors other than scientific merit.

Only with the expertise and commitment of our research community who sit on our panels and committees and participate in our independent peer review, can we continue to accelerate progress against cancer. We continue to fund the highest quality research because of our reviewers and for this we are extremely grateful. We expect all our funded researchers to participate in our peer review process.

As part of our commitment to a transparent peer review process, we're publishing a list of the Expert Review Panel members who served on our panels over the past year (2020/2021). A full list of all our Funding Committee members can also be found here.

If you have any questions about this list, please get in touch with policies@cancer.org.uk.

How our peer reviewers assess applications

To assess all applications, our committee and panel members should use our Guide to Assessing Grant Applications in the box to the right of this page.

The key principles we always encourage our reviewers to consider are the quality of the research, the likely translational potential; and how the outputs will be shared to generate more great science and change the research landscape.

Broadly speaking, our peer reviewers assess applications according to the following core criteria:

  • Scientific excellence – all applications must have a strong scientific rationale, achievable objectives, as well as appropriate experimental design and statistical analyses, to support the proposed research proposal.

  • Cancer relevance and impact on the field – value of the proposed work in advancing the fundamental understanding of cancer or improving how cancer is prevented, diagnosed or treated.

  • Excellent team and research environment – ability of applicants to carry out the proposed research taking into account team skills, expertise and access to the resources and facilities required for the successful fulfilment of the award. The added value of any proposed collaboration and the individual contributions, as well as the steps taken to ensure an effective collaboration, should be considered.

  • Resources requested – the costs requested in an application should be for the direct costs of the research and be reasonably justified in line with the experimental plans, leveraging existing resources where appropriate.

  • Research outputs and expertise – the lead applicant and/or team members should have excellent outputs track record and potential to deliver the programme of work proposed.

  • Sharing of outputs consistent with best practice – the proposal includes a clear process(es) for making the outputs (including knowledge and expertise) accessible to the scientific community and the public, whilst safeguarding intellectual property, the privacy of patients and confidential data.

We are signatories to the San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment (DORA). As such, when considering the track record of researchers and their suitability in delivering the proposed research, our reviewers will consider the value and impact of all research outputs, including preprints, training, contribution to consortia, patents, and sharing of key datasets, software, novel assays and reagents, in addition to research publications. When considering research publications, our reviewers will recognise that the content of a scientific paper and its influence in the field holds more significance than publication metrics or where it was published.

Our Guide to Assessing Grant Applications also provides guidance on:

  • Our scoring criteria
  • Assessing applicants' skills and experience
  • Assessing early career applications
  • Data sharing
  • Equality, Diversity and Inclusion
  • Considering the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Contact the grants team

If you've been asked to peer review for us and need any help, contact our grants team:

grants.helpline@cancer.org.uk

0203 469 5452

Guide For Assessing Grant Applications

To assess applications, our Committees and Panels should use our

Guide for Assessing Grant Applications

How we fund research

Our short video explains how we decide which projects deserve our support.

Terms and Conditions for Peer Review

By agreeing to peer review an application for us, you agree to declare any conflicts of interest and to treat the information in the application as confidential.

Creating a positive research culture

Our research culture framework is helping to build a community of world-class researchers who will help drive our ambition of 3 in 4 people surviving cancer by 2034.