ICMR Invites Joint Call Proposal For Investigator-Initiated Research Initiative 2023

Delhi: Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) has invited a joint call for proposals for Investigator Initiated Research (IIR) Initiative 2023.

Detailed schedule –

1. Closing dates for expression of interest (EOI) – 30th April 2023

2. Closing dates for full proposal – 15th July 2023

3. Final selection – September 2023

The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), under the Department of Health Research, Government of India, is the apex body in India for the formulation, coordination, and promotion of biomedical research and continues to nurture ecosystems for enabling medical innovations and their introduction into the health systems across the country. Throughout this journey, ICMR has established several regional and international collaborations to accelerate health research in India, leveraging complementary strengths and synergies. This includes the successful partnership with IAVI towards the joint mandate of developing scientifically robust practical solutions to public health problems.

IAVI, a global non-profit product development partner (PDP) organization generously supported by U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), is dedicated to building and strengthening capacity and capability in India and Africa towards accelerated efforts to develop a safe, effective, affordable, and globally accessible HIV biomedical prevention tool to serve the unmet global health needs tailored to the most relevant populations.

ICMR and IAVI had undertaken a joint initiative to launch the first Investigator-Initiated Research (IIR) Call in 2021, inviting research proposals from young investigators across Indian and African partner institutes on HIV and HIV-COVID-19 research.

To continue the efforts and further strengthen South-South collaboration, ICMR, and IAVI are now launching the Second Investigator-Initiated Research (IIR) Call 2023, inviting applications from young investigators across India and Africa on HIV research under various priority areas towards enhancing the indigenous scientific capacity of young investigators and promoting regional collaborations between India and Africa.

The IIR Call 2023 will grant Regional Collaboration Awards to support joint collaborative projects between young Indian and young African investigators towards advancing scientific research and leadership across both regions. Each regional collaboration award will be for an approximate consolidated budget of 400,000 – 500,000 USD for a maximum period of 30 months for all partners across the two regions (at least 1 Indian and 1 African partner). IIR call 2023 will aim to support 3-4 Regional Collaboration Awards through a competitive selection process.

ICMR will fund the Indian PIs, whereas IAVI will fund the African PIs in a joint project. Certain activities, such as interactive workshops/review meetings, etc., shall be funded jointly by ICMR and IAVI.

Eligibility –

1. Researchers who have an advanced degree (PhD in life sciences/social sciences or equivalent Medical degree), have some experience working in the field of HIV, or want to pursue research in the field of HIV and are under 45 years of age will be considered eligible to apply for this call.

2. For India: All primary applicants (PI) should be permanent employees of the Institute. The current PhD students can be included as Co-PIs in the proposal. All applicants should preferably have a senior mentor as Co-PI in the proposal.

3. For Africa: All primary applicants (including current PhD students) should be affiliated with the institute OR be permanent employees of that institute and must have a senior mentor as Co-PI who is a permanent employee.

Scope of the projects –

Scientifically robust comprehensive proposals are invited in HIV/AIDS prevention research. The proposals for 2023 may be in any of the disciplines of epidemiology, socio-behavioral research, community engagement, immunology, virology, and discovery research toward informing vaccine/product development in the field of HIV. The proposals should align with at least one or more of the following four D’s for impactful outcomes –

1. Discovery research (aimed at finding novel interventions (basic research))

2. Development research (aimed at developing innovative interventions related to HIV screening, detection, prevention, awareness, and behavior change)

3. Delivery or implementation research (aimed at learning how to overcome barriers in delivering effective interventions to the people who need them)

4. Descriptive Research (aimed at generating evidence to enable/facilitate developmental science)

The scope of this call will include the following research areas in the field of HIV –

Immunology, Virology, and Discovery Research –

1. Study viral factors and their role in HIV replication dynamics /pathogenesis/transmission – genotypic (sequencing and phylogenetics), phenotypic (sensitivity & resistance to bNAbs) characterization, diversity, and impact on susceptibility to neutralization

2. Predictive analysis for identification of new and recent infections and use of bioinformatics to study viral evolutionary patterns in Indian and African populations

3. Use of functional genomic approaches to dissect effective immune responses and host responses to HIV-1 acquisition and pathogenesis (in adults, adolescents, and pediatric populations)

4. Study B-cell repertoire (diversity/frequency) and T-cell receptor diversity in healthy individuals to inform HIV vaccine design

5. Isolation, functional characterization, and suitability assessment of broadly neutralizing antibodies relevant to circulating HIV-1 strains (in adult, adolescent & pediatric populations) in India and Africa and preclinical evaluation of novel antibodies

6. Understanding emerging trends of drug resistance in circulating HIV strains and their functional assessment

7. Design and characterization of immunogens that can elicit potent and broadly neutralizing antibodies for HIV-1

Epidemiology –

1. Identifying most relevant target populations and emerging pockets of risk towards informing targeted intervention development – With a focus on physical and virtual network dynamics in diverse (including hard-to-reach) populations (including at-risk key populations, adolescents, and young adults) across India and Africa

2. Studying diversity and evolution of circulating viruses across different risk groups (including high-risk key populations, adolescents and young adults, pregnant mothers and children below 2 years) and geographical regions (including urban/ rural) in India and Africa

3. Understanding cost-effective approaches to identify acute/early HIV infections towards sustainable surveillance

4. Identifying the unmet needs and translational gaps in the prevention of mother-to-child transmission and addressing ways to address them in India and Africa

Socio-behavioral research and Community Engagement –

1. Understanding population needs and factors (individual, social, and structural) influencing a)uptake of preventive health services; and b) research participation (recruitment, retention, care) and innovative interventions and strategies to ensure participant-centric engagement;

2. Understanding the social, contextual, and behavioral needs of adolescents and young adults (girls and boys), particularly related to their sexual and reproductive health, and identifying adolescent-responsive strategies to engage them in HIV prevention research and product uptake;

3. Developing and piloting innovative interventions/behavior change strategies among at-risk populations (including at-risk key populations, adolescents and young adults, pregnant women, and children) towards improving prevention outcomes and ensuring meaningful engagement in India and Africa

4. End-user acceptability & health system feasibility studies for HIV prevention products in the pipeline to inform their development, introduction, and uptake in India and Africa

The proposed work may also include research questions utilizing data and samples from ongoing and prior trials and other studies available to applying investigators.

Structure and selection process of the Applications –

The application submission will be in 2 stages –

Expression of Interest (EOI) –

1. The applicant must submit a concise Expression of Interest (EOI) which should briefly describe the scientific rationale, objectives, study plan, and intended impact (detailed format for EOI attached as annexure 1). The EOI submitted will be evaluated based on defined selection criteria (evaluation criteria for the EOI provided in the section below).

2. The shortlisted EOIs will be invited for an in-person pre-submission workshop to enable robust proposals and facilitate alignment among the identified collaborating partners.

Full proposal –

The shortlisted EOI applicants must submit detailed proposals, which will be evaluated and again scored (evaluation criteria for the full proposals are provided in the section below).

The applicants must also submit the following –

1. CVs of all collaborators (at the time of EOI submission)

2. Detailed Budget (at the time of Full proposal submission)

The onus is on the applicants to find their research collaborator(s) in the partner country(ies). Only a joint proposal with at least 1 Indian and 1 African partner will be considered.

Evaluation criteria –

Expression of Interest (EOI) – 

Scientific Relevance – 

1. Does the project align with the call’s objective?

2. Is the proposed project relevant to and important for the HIV prevention landscape, including vaccine and/or antibody design/development?

3. Is there a strong scientific rationale for the project?

4. How significant is the impact that the proposed work will bring about in the field?

Innovation & Approach – 

1. Are the concepts, approaches or methodologies, instrumentation, or interventions novel to the field of research?

2. Are the overall strategy and methodology well-reasoned and appropriate to accomplish the specific aims of the project?

3. Are the exchange visits, training, knowledge, and tech transfer plans well-articulated and planned?

Investigators/Collaborations – 

1. Are the investigators well-suited to achieve the aims of the proposal?

2. Do the applications leverage complementary expertise across partners to deliver impactful outcomes?

Full proposal –

Funding under this mechanism is only to support the realization of not-for-profit scientific work towards acquiring new knowledge, promoting scientific exchange within and across regions, and fostering the development of integration and cooperation between scientific organizations in India and Africa. Proposals will undergo a quality evaluation taking into account the following criteria –

1. Scientific Merit – Does the project align with the call’s objective? Is the proposed project relevant to and important for the HIV prevention landscape, including vaccine and/or antibody design/development? Is there a strong scientific rationale for the project? What is the state of readiness for the proposed work based on the background information and scientific work in the relevant field? How significant is the impact that the proposed work will bring about in the field? How well does the project align with in-country programmatic priorities? Does it support or provide additional value to programmatic needs? How relevant are the proposed outcomes of the project to the needs and constraints of the country(ies)/regions and target groups/final beneficiaries, and does it have any policy impact?

2. Implementation Plan – Are the objectives and endpoints/outcomes clear? Does the proposal have a justified study design, appropriate methodology, and detailed analysis plan to achieve the objectives within a feasible timeline? Is the implementation work plan adequately detailed and realistic? Is there clear metrics for monitoring project progress, including milestones and outputs’ expected timelines?

3. Investigator – Is the investigator and other researchers well suited to the project? Do they have appropriate experience and training? Will the project allow career development for a young investigator? If appropriate, is a suitable mentor identified? Is the investigator likely to significantly contribute to scientific capacity at the institute over time?

4. Operational Feasibility – Does the applicant have access to adequate resources (samples, data, local linkages with relevant partners, infrastructure) to conduct the proposed work? Does the researcher consider/integrate other national collaborators, expertise, and other ongoing work to strengthen the value or impact of this work? Has the applicant anticipated difficulties/risks that may be encountered? Have alternative tactics and mitigation plans been considered in case of failure?

5. Cost Effectiveness and Sustainability – Is the ratio between the estimated costs and expected results satisfactory? Have the budgets required over time been comprehensively mapped to highlight justified needs towards the proposed objectives? Are sustainability plans (based on results from the current study) identified, and are linkages to broader national/international programs/sustainable funding mentioned?

6. Value of Partnership – Does this collaboration add significant value to the work proposed? Do the investigators have complementary and integrated expertise? Is there any additional future work expected through this partnership? Are the plans for capacity building (cross-learning, knowledge sharing, and tech transfer) between the collaborators across the two regions well-articulated and planned? Are the team roles and responsibilities (including project management and coordination, governance, and organizational structure) clearly defined?

Application Procedure –

The EOI should be a straightforward concept of the proposed idea. The complete proposal should be a detailed description of the intended research, including the scientific principles upon which it is founded. The EOI and full proposal should be written to consider each review criteria outlined above.

We recommend that all co-investigators and collaborators mentioned in the proposal be aware of the proposed work at the time of EOI submission and have granted written permission at the time of full proposal submission.

The EOI and full application formats are attached as Annexures 1 & 2, respectively, in the notice attached below. The EOIs with relevant attachments should be uploaded on the ICMR portal (http://iircall.icmr.org.in/home.php) per the deadline below. Subsequently, the shortlisted EOI applicants will need to submit full proposals post the pre-submission workshop again on the ICMR portal as per the above dates.

To view the notice, click on the link below –


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