Therapeutic Discovery Programme Award

About this scheme

Key information

Career level
Established independent researcher
Non-clinical researcher
Research area
Drug discovery
Pre-clinical research
Preliminary submission
Final submission
Committee review
Funding period
Up to 5 years
Funding amount
Up to £2.5 million
This award is aimed at researchers who propose multifaceted programmes composed of several projects running in parallel with an overarching therapeutic aim

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

Prior experience of working in drug discovery is not neccessary, but an 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 programmes at any stage of the drug discovery process, from target (pathway) validation to early preclinical studies. Programmes can have a multi-target focus and include exploratory biology work packages provided they are aligned to therapeutic development and testing or have therapeutic intent. Examples of eligible studies for Programmes would be the same as a Project Award and broader in scope, but still with a therapeutic focus.  

Examples of eligible studies/work-packages include:  

  • Studies to identify potential therapeutic compounds including diversity screens, focused screen (virtual followed by biochemical screen), 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  
  • Validation and testing to demonstrate that a compound has therapeutic potential for modification to an entity with properties suitable for clinical use  
  • Identification of therapeutic molecules e.g. Screens, validation of molecules 
  • Re-positioning clinically validated therapeutic drugs or combinations of therapeutics with small molecule drugs (or other therapeutic modalities) in oncology indications 
  • Application of novel technologies to improve the efficacy of therapeutic drugs  
  • Development of a therapeutic agent such as an antibody or antibody drug conjugate and oncolytic viruses. This includes medicinal chemistry testing and development of a small molecule agent
  • Additionally, affinity testing, toxicity studies and binding cascade of a therapeutic compound will also be considered    
  • Development and testing of cell-based therapies including chimeric antigen receptor therapy, modified T cells, vaccines, invariant natural kill cell therapy…etc. as well as gene and protein therapy  

This scheme does not fund:

Funding support is provided for: 

  • Postdoctoral researchers
  • Technical staff
  • Associated running expenses
  • PhD student stipends and fees
  • Equipment up to £50,000 if required for the programme


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 programme. We will advise you on how to form suitable collaborations and ensure you are considering all necessary criteria within your proposal. Once the proposal is ready for a formal application we will open this on our electronic Grants Management System (eGMS).

Applications to our Therapeutic Discovery Programme Awards scheme are considered twice a year and follow a two-stage process:

1. Outline applications: You'll need to submit an outline application which the Discovery Research Committee will use to decide whether to invite you to submit a full application to a subsequent meeting. We advise you to contact the office at least two months prior to the submission deadline to discuss the process and be given access to an online application form. If you're a renewing applicant, you do not need to complete this stage.
2. Full or Renewing applications: If you're invited to submit a full application, you can do so straightaway or wait until the next funding call. You'll be invited to an interview with an Expert Review Panel who will make funding recommendations to the Discovery Research Committee.​

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


Outline application deadline - 20th August 2020
Full application deadline - 8th December 2020
Interview date - February/March 2021 (TBC)
Committee review - May 2021

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 Discovery Research Committee and 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 to the clinic 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

Working with a CRUK Drug Discovery Unit, or other professional drug discovery partner (academic or commercial) with experience of developing drug discovery proposals and project plans, will enhance your application for example by:

  • Providing guidance on target validation necessary to engage a drug discovery partner to assist in the future development of your project
  • Aiding you in defining specific milestones for the project, with associated go/ no-go decisions points
  • Providing access to facilities and expertise (e.g. high-throughput screening or medicinal chemistry)
  • Provide access to unique assays, models and chemical tools
  • Participating in regular meetings to aid in project management and guiding the future direction of the project
  • Our Drug Discovery Units seek to collaborate with the academic community as experts in specific areas of cancer biology. Potential applicants are not expected to have extensive experience of small molecule drug discovery. The aim is to build long lasting collaborations

Applications are assessed by international peer review and 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