UK joins forces with international experts to tackle global challenges

UK Research and Innovation and its partners are funding 13 research programs, building collaborations across 10 countries, including Japan, China, Singapore and India.

UK researchers and innovators will work with counterparts across the planet to tackle global challenges such as Ebola outbreaks, the impact of subpolar ocean currents on global climate, and the effect of Artificial Intelligence (AI) on society and individuals’ happiness and wellbeing following a major funding announcement.

Innovative UK companies will also be supported to develop into new markets following the announcement of the second wave of UK Research and Innovation’s (UKRI) Fund for International Collaboration on 9 August 2019.

Business Secretary Andrea Leadsom said: “The UK has a well-earned reputation for world-class research and innovation. Programmes like the Fund for International Collaboration have put us at the forefront of a global network of academic and business partnerships tackling some of humanity’s greatest challenges, from the impact of climate change to critical health issues.

“As we prepare to leave the EU on 31 October, each of these projects reflect our wholehearted commitment to continuing our track record of driving forward international collaborations in science and research and making the UK a science superpower. These ground-breaking initiatives will not only help tackle major issues, including the spread of infectious diseases, they will create jobs and drive economic growth across the UK.”

The thirteen partnerships, supported with £60 million from UKRI and at least £45 million in matched partner funding with additional in-kind support, will see UK researchers working with collaborators in ten countries, including the USA, Canada, Japan and India.

They include:

  • A collaboration between UK, US, Israeli and Chinese researchers to improve our understanding of how deadly diseases such as Zika, Ebola and Anthrax emerge, alongside other infectious diseases affecting food security, and how we can prevent and tackle them
  • Two initiatives with Canada and Japan, exploring the socio-economic impacts of AI technologies on different parts of society in order to build competitive, resilient and healthy economies and societies through responsible AI
  • A programme that will examine subpolar ocean currents in the North Atlantic that will generate valuable new knowledge on how they affect global climate patterns.
  • An initiative to support UK companies to explore markets in the USA, India, Singapore and Canada and boost collaboration
  • A new centre established with partners in India to develop high power lasers with healthcare applications such as imaging, therapeutics and biomedical applications.

UK Research and Innovation Chief Executive, Professor Sir Mark Walport, said: “The partnerships announced today highlight the importance of international collaboration in addressing major global research questions, from climate change to infectious diseases and artificial intelligence.

“The Fund for International Collaboration will ensure that UK researchers and innovators are at the forefront of global efforts to tackle these challenges, delivering benefits that will be felt here in the UK and throughout the world.”

The Fund for International Collaboration aims to enhance the UK’s excellence in research and innovation through global engagement, forging new bilateral and multilateral research and innovation programmes with global partners.

As part of the first wave of Fund for International Collaboration programmes, announced earlier this year, ten projects have now been funded which will see UK researchers collaborate with counterparts in Japan together to tackle major global challenges, from the HIV virus to earthquakes and pollution. The projects are being supported with £4.7 million of funding, delivered by UKRI and match-funded financially and in-kind by the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS). For summaries see the Notes to Editors section.

Full summaries of the Wave Two programmes are available in the Notes to Editors section.

Notes to Editors

For further information contact James Giles-Franklin, UKRI Media and Communications Manager, on [email protected] and 07702 611906.

Summaries of the FIC Wave 2 programmes

The Changing North Atlantic Ocean and its Impact on Climate

Partner country: USA 

Lead UKRI council: Natural Environment Research Council (NERC)

UKRI funding: £5.1 million 

Subpolar ocean currents in the North Atlantic are important for the Earth’s climate, keeping the UK relatively mild in winter compared to other countries at similar latitudes to Canada and influencing the global climate through their impact on surface temperatures, precipitation, wind strength, hurricanes and even rainfall in the Sahel desert, Amazon and parts of the US. 

Despite its importance, the Subpolar North Atlantic has been inadequately measured and is very poorly represented in ocean-climate models. This programme, co-funded by NERC and the US National Science Foundation (NSF) is expected to support joint projects that will generate valuable new knowledge about the Subpolar North Atlantic.

UK-Canada: understanding and adapting to a changing environment

Partner country: Canada

Lead UKRI council: Natural Environment Research Council (NERC)

A new UK-Canadian multidisciplinary research collaboration will deliver innovative understanding, evidence for action, and tools to enable local communities to adapt to environmental change incorporating traditional knowledge. The programme will generate an enhanced understanding of the breadth and depth of the impact of environmental change, and identify new technological, engineering, social, health, cultural and economic responses.

Next generation transdisciplinary international research collaborations in Ecology and Evolution of Infectious Diseases (EEID)

Partner countries: USA, Israel, China 

Lead UKRI council: Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC).

Partner councils: Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), Medical Research Council (MRC), and Natural Environment Research Council (NERC)

UKRI funding: £8.3 million 

The programme aims to improve our understanding of the interactions between humans, livestock, crops, wild animals and plants that lead to the emergence and transmission of infectious diseases such as Zika, Ebola, African Swine Fever and Anthrax. Understanding, predicting and mitigating these complex interactions will improve our ability to forecast and manage outbreaks, generate new cost-effective prevention and control methods, and enhance food safety and public health. 

UK researchers will work with major funders in the US (National Science Foundation; National Institutes of Health; National Institute of Food and Agriculture), the US-Israel Binational Science Foundation and the National Natural Science Foundation of China, with the intention of applying their findings to public health, food safety, agricultural, social and environmental policy and practice, in the context of major global challenges such as increasing pathogen resistance, climate change, deforestation and urbanisation. A call to fund projects will be announced in due course.

UK-Canada Diabetes Partnership Initiative

Partner country: Canada

Lead UKRI council: Medical Research Council (MRC)

UKRI funding: £2 million

Five million people in the UK suffer from diabetes at a cost to the NHS of approximately £14 billion a year, or ten per cent of the total NHS budget. Globally, the prevalence of diabetes has nearly doubled since 1980, from 4.7 per cent to 8.5 per cent of the world’s adult population.

Projects funded through the programme will research mechanisms and translational solutions to improve the lives of people with diabetes in Canada and the UK. Projects will cover key gaps in our knowledge of diabetes, such as genetic variability, molecular mechanisms and studies to reverse type 2 diabetes through the physical activity and nutrition. A number of projects will be funded through a joint call by the MRC, ESRC and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.

UK-China Healthy Ageing Flagship Challenge

Partner Country: China    

Lead UKRI councils: Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), Innovate UK

Partner UKRI council: Medical Research Council (MRC)             

UKRI funding: £8.3 million 

The UK and China face similar challenges around healthy ageing and interdisciplinary research and innovation is required to understand and address health and social challenges facing ageing societies and to inform the development of new products and services to support them.

This programme will support UKRI’s contribution to the UK-China Health Ageing Flagship Challenge Programme through activities that are complementary to, but distinct from, the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund (ISCF) Healthy Ageing Challenge. These activities will include a range of UKRI Councils and Chinese partners and will be framed to encourage appropriate approaches across the breadth of science and innovation domains within UKRI.

The delivery of co-funded research and innovation programmes will be the key outcome of the bid.

  • An interdisciplinary, (academic) research programme (IRP) led by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), supported by the Medical Research Council (MRC) and co-funded with the National Natural Science Foundation of China (NSFC).
  • A business-led programme led by Innovate UK (IUK) and co-funded with the Chinese Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST).

UK-Australia Built Environment and Prevention Research Scheme

Partner country: Australia

Lead UKRI council: Medical Research Council (MRC)

Partner UKRI council: Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC)

UKRI funding: £2.1 million

The partnership will support the Government’s Prevention is Better Than Cure vision, which proposes a move to a system which predicts and prevents poor health, by supporting world-leading research to explore the links between the environments we live in and non-communicable diseases such as heart disease, cancer and diabetes. Non-communicable diseases represent 60 per cent of deaths worldwide, yet are linked to avoidable risk factors and 40 per cent of cases are preventable. The funding aims to deliver world-leading prevention research that will increase our understanding of how best to improve the built environment in order to drive down preventable diseases.

A joint competitive call will be administered by UKRI’s MRC and ESRC, and the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC), for approximately five collaborative research projects, which will work across multiple institutions on specific non-communicable disease research challenges and promote links between researchers, policy makers, practitioners, health professionals and civil society groups.

UKRI-JST Joint Call on Artificial Intelligence and Society

Partner country: Japan

Lead UKRI council: Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC)

Partner UKRI council: Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC)

UKRI funding: £2.1 million

This programme is focused on exploring the differential impacts of AI technologies on different parts of society, both at the individual level and the broader societal and economic level. Proposals are encouraged to reflect one or more of the following thematic areas: impacts on humans and society (including individual happiness, wellbeing and identity); economic implications (e.g. future of work, skills, education and wealth distribution); and issues of transparency, responsibility, governance and ethics (e.g. democracy, trust, security, equality and diversity).

 A joint research call delivered by ESRC, AHRC and the Japan Science and Technology Agency (JST) will fund collaborative research projects aimed at generating new insights into the implications of AI technologies for society. This call aims to contribute towards the development of a platform for effective and sustained dialogue and engagement between a range of relevant stakeholders (including researchers, policy-makers and business), ultimately leading to practical implementation and policy recommendations.

UK-Canada Collaboration on Artificial Intelligence: Building competitive, resilient economies and societies

Partner country: Canada

Lead UKRI council: Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC)

Partner UKRI councils: Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), Medical Research Council (MRC)

UKRI funding: £5.2 million

Partner commitment: C$5.2 million from three Canadian federal research funding agencies – the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC), and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC).

The call aims to support innovative and cutting-edge interdisciplinary AI research that encourages the exploration of new interdisciplinary research methodologies, approaches and tools that cuts across at least two of the following research domains:

  1. social sciences and humanities;
  2. health and biomedical sciences; and
  3. natural sciences and engineering (including computational and/or mathematical sciences).

The call promotes the development of responsible AI through research that includes considerations of social-cultural variables (gender, racialised identity, socio-economic status, ability, etc.), biological variables (sex) and sustainable development in the research design, to ensure that the benefits of AI technologies and tools are shared broadly across society, to mitigate against potential harms, and to enhance the trustworthiness of AI. The programme will support up to 10 research projects. Successful projects will be selected through a competitive process, led by ESRC in collaboration with Canadian funding agencies and the other UK funders. 

UK-Canada Globalink Doctoral Exchange Scheme

Partner country: Canada

Lead UKRI council: NERC on behalf of seven UKRI councils

UKRI funding: £1.4 million

UKRI will become a partner in the Mitacs GlobaIink Research Awards Scheme, supporting the exchange of doctoral students between the UK and Canada, fostering long-term research networks and collaborations that will ultimately attract talent to the UK and maintain the UK’s reputation for research and innovation excellence and contribute to economic growth.

This pilot project will aim to support over 200 three-month research exchanges between the UK and Canada, with an equal number of students going to the UK and Canada. Exchanges will be available across the full disciplinary remit of UKRI.

Global Incubator Programme

Partner countries: Canada, Singapore, India, USA

Lead UKRI council: Innovate UK

UKRI funding: £3.3 million

The Global Incubator Programme will support innovative UK SMEs in global markets, providing them with incubator space and trusted in-country support to help overcome barriers and accelerate growth.  Working with some of the leading incubators in the four countries, it will help businesses to more easily build collaborations and partnerships and explore the potential of overseas markets.

The businesses will receive help from the incubator to develop their ideas and to adapt them to the needs of those markets. The reciprocal element of the programme provides the opportunity for innovative companies from the four countries involved to explore the UK and build relations. 

Digital transformation in humanities research: UK-Irish collaboration in the digital humanities

Partner country: Ireland

Lead UKRI council: Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC)

UKRI funding: £4 million

The UK and Ireland are home to world-leading centres of research excellence in digital humanities, which uses information and communication technologies to preserve artefacts digitally, make them more accessible to researchers and the public, and analyse and mine information from them in new and innovative ways.

The programme will enhance collaboration between the two nations, allowing for analysis of their different models for digital humanities research and aiming to deliver substantial social and economic impacts, for example by driving innovation and fostering new partnerships with the burgeoning creative industries sector; enhancing public access to and engagement with cultural heritage; delivering new standards in open access; supporting new learning, educational and professional skills; and creating new resources for tourism and marketing.  A call to fund projects will be announced later in the year.

UK-USA Business Innovation Bridge

Partner Country: USA 

Lead UKRI council: Innovate UK

UKRI funding: £5 million

The UK-USA Business Innovation Bridge will enable UK businesses to collaborate through R&D and innovation projects with businesses and research organisations in the USA, such as the US Institute for Advanced Composites Manufacturing Innovation, to develop new products, processes and services to be exploited in global markets.

Working with funding partners at federal and state level in the USA, the Business Innovation Bridge will offer tailored competitions across priority technology areas and sectors including advanced materials, high value manufacturing and renewable energy projects. 

EPIC: UK-India Extreme Photonics Innovation Centre

Partner country: India

Lead UKRI council: Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC)

UKRI funding: £4 million

Accelerators driven by powerful, high-repetition rate petawatt-class lasers could yield bright particle and x-ray beams which have the potential to revolutionise a range of areas of healthcare, such as high-resolution imaging, therapeutic and biomedical applications.

Building on the world-leading capabilities of UKRI’s Central Laser Facility (CLF) and the Tata Institute of Fundamental research (TIFR) in India, the innovation centre aims to solve some of the outstanding challenges for the exploitation of laser-driven accelerators, while providing UK scientists with a unique opportunity to collaborate with one of the best research institutions in India.


Additional funding announced for Wave 1 programme

UK-Japan SSH Connections additional Fund Request

Partner Country: Japan

Lead UKRI councils: Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC)  

Partner UKRI council: Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC)

UKRI funding: £650,000

Additional funding of £650,000 has been allocated to support an additional 16 high quality projects as part of the ESRC-AHRC UK-Japan Social Sciences and Humanities (SSH) Connections programme, originally announced in the first wave of the FIC.

The programme aims to improve the connectivity between UK and Japanese social science, arts and humanities research communities through funding for groups of researchers to make new connections and identify common interests to enable future collaborative research activity. New joint research agendas between the best researchers in both countries will ultimately enhance the volume and strength of UK-Japanese partnerships in the social sciences and humanities.

Summaries of the FIC Wave 1 projects funded through the UKRI-JSPS call

Memory Dynamics: The Cellular Architecture of Systems Memory

UKRI funding: £411,000

Led by: Matthew Jones, University of Bristol; Thomas McHugh, RIKEN

The project aims to solve the mystery of how sleep supports a healthy memory, by deciphering how engram neurons – the groups of neurons involved in learning specific memories – learn, process and remember new information. Answering these questions will improve our understanding of how the brain works and could lead to new treatments for illnesses such as dementia, depression and schizophrenia.

Genome stability established through epigenome plasticity during ageing and rejuvenation

UKRI funding: £490,000

Led by: Masashi Narita, University of Cambridge; Yasuyuki Ohkawa, Kyushu University

The project aims to understand how epigenomes – proteins and chemical modifications bound to DNA that are crucial to human development – change as we grow older. The researchers will develop new technologies and models to increase knowledge in this area, which could then be used in the development of new treatments for cancers which are linked to the ageing process.

Structure-based vaccine design: using structural information from HIV-2 to design better HIV-1 immunogens

UKRI funding: £480,000

Led by: Sarah Rowland-Jones, University of Oxford; Katsumi Maenaka, Hokkaido University

The researchers aim to create a new, more effective vaccine for the HIV-1 virus that is responsible for the worldwide epidemic, by studying the related HIV-2 virus. HIV-2 has only ever spread to a relatively small group of people, many of whom never become sick. By studying immune responses in people infected with HIV-2 and the structure of viral proteins, they aim to identify proteins that can be developed for use in new vaccines.

Authentication of primate pluripotent stem cells for chimaera formation

UKRI funding: £520,000

Led by: Austin Smith, Wellcome - MRC Cambridge Stem Cell Institute, University of Cambridge; Hiromitsu Nakauchi, University of Tokyo

Pluripotent stem cells are ‘master cells’ that we can instruct to turn into every kind of cell that makes up the human body. This means they offer the real possibility to replace damaged or diseased tissues. The project aims to overcome barriers to the use of pluripotent stem cells in creating safe and fully functional cells and organs for use in regenerative and transplantation medicine.

Shared challenges to form a spindle without centrosomes in plants and animals

UKRI funding: £480,000

Led by: Hiro Ohkura, University of Edinburgh; Gohta Goshima, Nagoya University

The researchers aim to generate valuable insights into the cell divisions that lead to egg production in humans and other animals, and the growth and development of plants. Through this greater understanding, the researchers aim to generate impact across health and agriculture, through regenerative medicine and the development of new crops which are bigger or able to regenerate, for example.

Functional interplay of ciliary trafficking complexes and motor proteins

UKRI funding: £460,000

Led by: David Stephens, University of Bristol; Kazuhisa Nakayama, Kyoto University

Cilia – microscopic, hair-like structures that extend from the surface of cells – are essential for human and animal development and are important in the formation and maintenance of bone, kidney function, signalling in the brain and many more body functions. This fundamental bioscience project aims to provide a fuller understanding of their structure and function, which has relevance in a wide range of fields such as the development of pharmaceuticals to target common cancers.

Geodynamics and Tectonics Plate Analysis based on Distributed Optical Fibre Acoustic Sensor

UKRI funding: £460,000

Led by: Gilberto Brambilla, University of Southampton; Eiichiro Araki, Japan Agency for Marine-earth Science and Technology

The researchers intend to generate greater understanding of the world’s most powerful, megathrust earthquakes. By using an underwater network of optical fibres currently used to transmit data between seismic sensors to generate a 3D map of seismic activity, they aim to identify links between different typologies of seismic activities, clarify the source of earthquakes off the south coast of Japan’s Honshu island and inform future preparation and response to these hugely powerful earthquakes.

Quantifying Human Influence on Ocean Melting of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet

UKRI funding: £500,000

Led by: Paul Holland, NERC British Antarctic Survey; Satoshi Kimura, Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology; Alberto Naveira Garabato, University of Southampton

The Antarctic Ice Sheet, a huge slab of glacier ice about the size of Europe, is losing ice and as a result global sea levels are rising, potentially leading to a rise of 50cm by 2100. The ultimate cause – by human-induced climate change or natural variability – is unknown and this project aims to address this question through the development of computer models, which will inform future decision-making on how to respond to the loss of ice from the ice sheet.

Genetics and evolutionary dynamics of male-killer suppression in the lacewing, Mallada desjardinsi

UKRI funding: £440,000

Led by: Gregory Hurst, University of Liverpool; Daisuke Kageyama, National Agriculture and Food Research Organization

Some insects, such as species of lacewing and butterfly, can evolve very quickly to prevent certain bacteria killing male insects. The researchers aim to answer long-standing questions about the ‘rescue mutation’ which allows this to happen so quickly, such as how it affects 'Maleness' and 'Femaleness' in the species, its impact on insects’ ability to reproduce, and how similar the rescue factor is in lacewings and butterflies.

Continuous chemical speciation of Asian VOC emissions for understanding the growth of surface ozone in East Asia

UKRI funding: £430,000

Led by: Alastair Lewis, University of York and National Centre for Atmospheric Science; Takuya Saito, National Institute for Environmental Studies and Kobe University

Ground-level, or tropospheric, ozone is caused by chemical reactions which occur when sunlight interacts with pollutants emitted by sources such as cars and power plants. It is a major pollutant in east Asia that causes health issues such as lung and cardiovascular problems and can reduce crop yields. By measuring the compounds that fuel tropospheric ozone production, the researchers hope to influence future methods of reducing this form of pollution.