Special call for COVID-19 research projects

Purpose of the COVID-19 call

In view of the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic for public health, it is of crucial and urgent importance that all stakeholders in the public and private sectors engage in global efforts to treat those exposed to the virus and to contain the outbreak.

In this context, the FWO seeks to generate social impact in the short term for dealing with the current COVID-19 crisis. The objective is to help solve urgent scientific issues surrounding the approach. This call is complementary to the FWO call for junior and senior research projects. It is focused exclusively on research that requires immediate funding because it is carried out within the context of the current pandemic and can therefore not be accommodated under any of the open calls for fundamental research projects. Its short time span and succinct form reflects the urgent and temporary character of this research.

The total budget for this call is €2.5 million.

The urgent and pandemic nature implies the need for (inter)national cooperation: collaboration of private companies, academia, international organisations, public bodies etc. has the greatest potential to accelerate the development of prophylactics, therapeutics and diagnostics and to contribute in the short term to dealing effectively with the current outbreak.

Definition of the research scope

Eligible areas of research

  • National or international translational multicenter clinical research into the development and efficacy of novel or existing antiviral (of immunosuppressive) drugs, (repurposed or off-label) therapeutics, vaccines, vaccination schedules and/or the reliability of immunological serology-based diagnostic tests and their validation in preclinical models.
  • Clinical-pathological analysis of patient samples for a better understanding of COVID-19 immunity, identification of early biomarkers, infectivity, variability of the virus, comorbidities in COVID-19 patients during or after the acute phase.
  • Mathematical models and translational data-driven epidemiological research with direct added value in support of policy decisions (e.g. studies into the spread of coronaviruses; how to phase out lockdown and other restrictive measures; who to vaccinate first; developing a “post-corona start-up” strategy).
  • Technology development projects that solve a well-defined verifiable bottleneck (e.g. masks, therapeutic agents, ventilation equipment, vaccine production technology, and the like)

Extra (top-up) budget can be requested for ongoing research (whether pre-funded or not) within this topic.

Project duration

12 months

Evaluation criteria

  • Necessity and urgency of the research, its contribution to the envisaged solution and implementability/impact in clinical practice and/or public health in the short to medium term for management of the COVID-19 pandemic. Here it is important to identify relevant ‘deliverables’ that can be realised with this research with a view to potential pandemics in the future.
  • Added value as compared to the current state-of-the-art
  • Synergy and complementarity with relevant national and international initiatives
  • Quality of the research approach (research design & methodology, work plan, budget)
  • Expertise and track record of the consortium (including with reference to immediate startup)

Eligibility and application conditions

Proposals must be made by a consortium (i.e. two or more eligible institutions) to increase their likelihood of impact.

  • Supervisors

Eligible supervisors-spokespersons are researchers employed at a Flemish university or the ITG.

No further specific eligibility criteria apply, except that they are in any case expected to (be able to) manage research groups or consortiums.

  • Institutions

Each Flemish university and the ITG may submit a maximum of five proposals, with one of its researchers acting as supervisor-spokesperson.

  • Consortiums

The proposal must be submitted as a consortium (i.e. two or more eligible institutions) to increase its likelihood of impact.

The consortium should preferably also include a Flemish hospital or a Belgian government agency active in the field of care and public health (e.g. Sciensano, Agency for Care and Health).

The following categories of Flemish hospitals are eligible:

  1. University hospitals
  2. Non-university hospitals with an academic character (approved list)
  3. Non-university hospitals with no academic character, which were considered eligible for previous TBM calls
  • Budget per proposal

Each consortium can request a budget of minimum €50,000 and maximum €300,000.

Type and maximum amount of eligible costs are aligned with the specific objectives of this call. Payment, monitoring and follow-up are governed by the Regulations of the Research Foundation - Flanders governing fundamental research projects.

Operating costs

  • Subcontracting costs (maximum 30% of the budget)
    • Clinical Research Organisations (e.g. for the launch and coordination of clinical trials, acquisition of the necessary permits, ethical approvals, follow-up of clinical trials etc.)
    • Biobanking (coordination of the collecting and sharing of clinical samples etc.)
  • Other operating costs (reagents, medication, clinical consumables, computer time etc.)

Staff costs

  • If necessary and justified

(Inter)national cooperation

  • Maximum 20% of the budget can be allocated to a non-Flemish partner via the main host institution. This involves the signing of a cooperation agreement on the ownership and usage rights to the project results and the associated liability.
  • Submission conditions
    • The supervisor-spokesperson enters their personal details (under the button “Manage your personal data”) and completes the COVID-19 application form (under the button “Create a new application or complete an open application”) via their account in the e-portal. The project partners must be specified in the application form, but their personal details need not be provided.
  • The Research Coordination Unit (RCU) of the main host institution will pre-register each of the total of 5 applications it can submit, between 17 and 24 April 2020 via covidoproep@fwo.be. This pre-registration will, for each project, specify the names of the applicants and the project title.
  • The RSU of the main host institution receives the project application within the time limit set by the main host institution. The RSU submits the applications to the FWO through the e-portal by 30 April 2020, 12:00.
  • The project application is submitted in English based on the layout and in the maximum number of pages (3) as shown in the application template. (PDF-versionWord-version)
  • After approval of the project proposal, a declaration of intent is issued at institution level for each consortium member.
  • The FWO regulations concerning ethical aspects of the research also apply in their entirety to this call. If ethical recommendations were already made for previous research that also apply to the research covered by the application (such as for top-up of ongoing research), these will suffice.
  • The consortium undertakes to ensure that the project results obtained with the financial support are used for achieving maximum added value. To this end, the consortium must, among other things, share collected research data (open data) and make publications widely accessible (open access). The consortium also undertakes to take any other measures that are reasonably feasible to maximise this knowledge dissemination.

Evaluation procedure

  • Projects will be evaluated by a panel of 7 experts.
  • Based on the individual rankings by these experts, an overall ranking will be produced.
  • The ranking will in principle be based on the scores of all reviewers and submitted in writing to the panel for endorsement.

Call timetable

  • Saturday, April 11, 2020: call launch
  • Thursday, April 30, noon: submission deadline – the internal deadline of the host institution will be earlier!
  • Friday, May 22: decision of Board of Trustees via written procedure;
  • Friday, May 22: start of projects*

*By start of projects is meant that researchers can start their work under the project as soon as they have been notified of the award decision. Costs incurred in this respect may be charged to the project. The agreement will follow later.