Therapeutic Discovery Pilot Award

About this scheme

Therapeutic Discovery Pilot Award on pause

Cancer Research UK has undertaken a Therapeutic Innovation Review to understand our offering in this space. While we work through the detail we are keeping the Therapeutic Discovery Project Award and Therapeutic Discovery Pilot Award schemes on pause, unless you are seeking funding to continue research funded by CRUK. We will provide an update on this as soon as we can, which we are hoping will be in early 2021.

Key information

Career level
Early career researcher
Mid-career researcher
Established independent researcher
Non-clinical researcher
Research area
Drug discovery
Pre-clinical research
Funding period
Up to 2 years
Funding amount
Up to £200k
The award can be used to generate preliminary data to underpin a CRUK Therapeutic Discovery Project Award application. 

 You should be:

  • A scientist, clinician or health care worker with a salaried position for the full duration of the award
  • Based at a UK university, medical school, hospital or research institution

You don’t need prior experience of working in drug discovery, but early interaction with a professional drug discovery partner will strengthen your application. We will also support collaborative projects between an academic partner and a commercial partner where appropriate. In some circumstances, non-UK based collaborators are accepted.

If you are unsure of your eligibility, please contact


This scheme funds research at the early stage of drug discovery including target (pathway) validation with a clear pathway towards further therapeutic development.  

Examples of eligible studies including but not limited to: 

  • Target deconvolution studies including affinity chromatography, expression-cloning, protein microarray and biochemical suppression  
  • Target validation studies including RNA interference, gene editing, probe or compound-based validation (e.g. inhibitors and agonists) and biopharmaceuticals (e.g. antibodies and receptor constructs)
  • Small molecule assay development 
  • Assay development for a therapeutic screen
  • Studies to identify potential therapeutic compounds including diversity screens, focused screens (virtual followed by biochemical screens), fragment-based screens (e.g. surface plasmon resonance (SPR) spectrometry, biolayer interferometry (BLI) and X-ray crystallography), as well as knowledge-based and de novo structure-based design   

This scheme does not fund:

Funding support is provided for: 

  • Postdoctoral researchers
  • Technical staff
  • Associated running expenses

If your project is sufficiently advanced that more substantial, longer-term support is required, you should consider applying for our Therapeutic Discovery Project Award.  

Available Infrastructure

Cancer Research UK-AstraZeneca Antibody Alliance Laboratory

Applicants will have the opportunity to apply to the Antibody Alliance Laboratory (AAL) which collaborates with academics to support translation of novel biology into antibody therapeutics and diagnostics, as well as reagent tools to help build a target validation package. AAL provides access to AstraZeneca’s proprietary human antibody phage display library and established antibody-engineering technologies, alongside the extensive drug discovery expertise within the laboratory. When you first open up an application with us, we will discuss with you whether the AAL could support your proposal. If you wish to apply to the AAL to develop an antibody, you should include this in your application, including alternative plans should you not be successful and fill in the additional form.   

The Joint AstraZeneca – Cancer Research UK Functional Genomics Centre  

You will be eligible to apply to use the Functional Genomics Centre (FGC). This is a joint initiative between CRUK and AstraZeneca and is a centre of expertise in genetics screens, cancer models, CRISPR vector design and computational approaches. If you are interested in accessing the FGC with your Pilot Award, you should approach the team directly to discuss whether they could support your proposal when you open an application with us. If you plan to apply to the FGC, you should include this in your application and request costs for access to the FGC. Additionally, your application will need to include alternative plans should you not be successful in your FGC application. 

How to apply to this scheme

Overview of the application process

You must contact the research grants manager for an informal, confidential discussion about your proposed project. We will advise you on how to form suitable collaborations and ensure you are considering all necessary criteria within your proposal. Once the project is ready for a formal application, we will open this on our electronic Grants Management System (eGMS).

Applications to our Therapeutic Discovery Pilot Award scheme are considered twice a year and follow the following process:

Applications will be considered by an Expert Review Panel (ERP), with a final decision being made by the Discovery Research Committee.

All applications must be made through eGMS, where one PI must assume the responsibility of named Lead Applicant.


Application deadline - 24th August 2020
Committee review - November 2020

Before you begin your application

You must contact the research grants manager to discuss your proposal

Assessment criteria

Applications are assessed on their potential to deliver a novel preventative or therapeutic approach.

The Expert Review Panel will judge your proposal on:

  • Scientific excellence: all applications must have a strong scientific rationale to support the proposed research proposal
  • Cancer-relevance: likely to advance how cancer is understood, diagnosed or treated
  • Collective track record: the team should demonstrate their combined strengths and potential to produce outstanding results
  • The strength of your research team, research environment and collaborations in providing access to drug discovery expertise
  • The translational work plan, which should include: Achievable milestones with go/no-go decision points; The specific deliverables of the project, for example assays, models or tools; A plan for further progression and the potential line of sight towards a Therapeutic Discovery Project/Programme Award application at the end of the award
  • 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

The Committee will also consider how your proposed research aligns with our strategic priorities, as set out in our Discovery Research Statement of Intent and our broader Research Strategy.


When you first contact us to discuss opening your application, we will discuss with you whether suitable collaborations are in place to support the project. We will be able to provide guidance on:

  • Whether a Drug Discovery Unit may be able to assist your application
  • Alignment of your project with the expertise of the individual Unit
  • Areas the Unit will likely consider when assessing the feasibility of a collaboration

Applications are assessed by an Expert Review Panel of the Discovery Research Committee, where the final funding decision is made.

   Wesley Gilchrist

   Research Grants Manager

   Tel: +44 (0) 2034698931