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Research Grants

2018 HFSP Awardees Meeting - Toronto


Distinguishing Features of the HFSP Research Grant Program

HFSP Research Grants support innovative basic research into fundamental biological problems with emphasis placed on novel and interdisciplinary approaches that involve scientific exchanges across national and disciplinary boundaries (see guidelines).

Participation of scientists from disciplines outside the traditional life sciences such as biophysics, chemistry, computational biology, computer science, engineering, mathematics, nanoscience or physics is recommended because such collaborations have opened up new approaches for understanding the complex structures and regulatory networks that characterize living organisms, their evolution and interactions.

Research grants are provided for teams of scientists from different countries who wish to combine their expertise in innovative approaches to questions that could not be answered by individual laboratories. Preliminary results are not required and applicants are expected to develop new lines of research through the research collaboration.

It is understood that such research inherently contains risks and HFSP expects that teams of applicants address the risks and outline mitigation strategies for their research in case of failure and how they intend to achieve their goals.

Applications for applied research, including medical research typically funded by national medical research bodies, will be deemed ineligible (see guidelines).

Two types of Grant are available: Research Grants – Early Career and Research Grants – Program.

Research Grants - Early Career*
All team members are expected to direct a research group (however small) and must have a doctoral degree (PhD, MD or equivalent). They must be in a position to initiate and direct their own independent lines of research. The HFSP award is not intended to create scientific independence, this is a decision of the research institute prior to the application.
Research Grants - Program
Awarded to teams of independent researchers at any stage of their careers. The research team is expected to develop new lines of research through the collaboration. Applications including independent investigators early in their careers are encouraged.

Both provide three years support for 2 – 4 member teams.

Awards are fixed sums dependent upon team size.


*Former Young Investigators


HFSP Research Grants are team grants providing financial support to the team for three years. The amount paid depends only on team composition. For details see the application guidelines.

  • The amount paid depends on the number of team members which normally should be 2 - 4.

  • Two members from the same country are acceptable if the team can convince the reviewers that both members are essential for the success of the project. They will be considered as 1.5 team members if they constitute an interdisciplinary collaboration, and will be awarded an amount equivalent to 1.5 team members.

  • In the case of a two-member team with one member in a for-profit institution, the annual award will be halved. In teams with more members, the team member in a for-profit research environment will not be included when calculating the amount of the award.

  • No detailed budget is required. The award is for costs specifically linked to the project. This includes salaries or stipends for research assistants (post-doctoral scientists, graduate students, technicians) essential for the new collaborative project.

  • No salary support (including summer salaries) can be paid from the grant for the Principal Applicant, Co-Applicant or other faculty, institutional staff such as secretaries or laboratory managers, and no student tuition fees can be paid.

For Applicants

Applicants must submit a letter of intent to apply for a research grant via the HFSP application site with a deadline at the end of March, and after review, selected teams will be invited to submit a full proposal.

Link to create an account: ProposalCentral

Step 1 : Letters of Intent


i. Compulsory initiation of a letter of Intent by obtaining an LOI ID number (1XXXXXX) by 19 March 2024 (updated for each cycle)

ii. Submission of Letters of Intent: 28 March 2024 (updated for each cycle)

Please read the guidelines and the document ‘Writing a letter of intent’ carefully to establish whether your project is clearly in tune with the requirements and emphasis of the research grant program.To apply for a grant, you must first submit a Letter of Intent online as described below. The main steps in applying are as follows:

1. The research team must designate one member as Principal Applicant, who will be responsible for final submission of the letter of intent. Note the requirement that the Principal Applicant must have his/her primary laboratory in a member country. See the guidelines (Item 3.2. “Principal Applicant”) for more detail.

2. In setting up the team, the Principal Applicant must ensure that no team member is a Principal Applicant or Co-Applicant on another proposal (see Item 3.7."Concurrent Applications" in the guidelines). Failure to ensure this will result in all those applications being withdrawn from the competition.

3. The Principal Applicant must obtain a 2025 application number, LOI ID, on the application site as early as possible, but by 19 March 2024 at latest. To this aim, the Principal Applicant will first have to set up an account (if not already in the HFSP database). This will give access to the online application form and further instructions concerning online submission (including the addition of the other team members). This applies even to Principal Applicants already listed in the HFSP database (e.g. those re-applying from last year). It is essential to obtain a 2025 reference number until 19 March. The composition of the team can be modified up to the final submission date.

4. All team members must be designated as co-applicants on the online form and all co-applicants must approve their participation by accessing the online form before the application can be completed and submitted. A brief explanation of the contributions of the different disciplinary expertise should be provided in the summary which will be used in guiding the review process.

5. The letter of intent must be submitted by 28 March 2024. No changes can be made to the letter of intent after final submission.

6. The Principal Applicant will be notified by mid-July if the team is invited to submit a full proposal. The deadline for the full proposal will be around mid - September 2024.

Step 2 : Full Proposals

For information only, see HERE the instructions for submitting full proposals in the 2025 cycle. These are updated each year.

For Awardees

See HERE other helpful resources for Research Grant awardees.

For problems entering ORCID and/or MD/PhD degree or equivalent in the LOI application form, please see the following video:


The new site for letter of intent applications on Proposal Central will open by late January 2024. Please check the instructions below and the guidelines before requesting a LOI ID number.

For questions or assistance, please contact the Research Grant Office at Click here to show mail address.


HFSP Research Grants support teams of independent leaders of research groups. Therefore applications from individual scientists or early career researchers carrying out their postdoctoral or PhD level projects are not eligible.

  • The Principal Applicant of a Research Grant must have a laboratory in a member country (with the exception of HFSP Career Development Awardees). The other team members and their laboratories may be situated anywhere in the world.

  • All team members are expected to direct a research group (however small) and must have a doctoral degree (PhD, MD or equivalent). They must be in a position to initiate and direct their own independent lines of research. The HFSP award is not intended to create scientific independence, this is a decision of the research institute prior to the application.

  • All team members must be able to determine the course of the HFSP-funded project and have freedom to administer the grant, if awarded.

  • Structure of the team. The research teams must be international (preferably intercontinental). Normally, there will be only one team member with a laboratory in each country, teams with two members at the same institution are not eligible.

  • Team members should not have collaborated before, they will normally not have published original research together, and the project must be significantly different from their ongoing research.

Research Grants – Early Career

  • All members of an Early Career grant team must be within 5 years of obtaining an independent position (see below) and must have obtained their first doctoral degree (PhD, MD or equivalent) not longer than 10 years before the deadline for submission of the letter of intent.

  • All applicants for an Early Career grant must be project leaders directing a research group (however small) and must have full responsibility for the day to day running of their laboratories and will have full control of the HFSP funds.

  • Written confirmation may be requested from the Head of Department in the case of an applicant who independently oversees a research theme.

Research Grants – Program

  •  While researchers can be at any stage in their independent career, participation of early career researchers is encouraged also in Program Grants.

Additional conditions regarding the institutional affiliations, the number of team members, the country of affiliation, internationality of the team, concurrent applications and new applications from previous grant awardees are given in the guidelines .

There is a single annual competition for Research Grant awards. Review of research grant applications is performed in two stages

1. Applicants must first submit a letter of intent via the HFSP website, with a deadline around the end of March/beginning of April. After review of the letters of intent, invitations are issued in early July to the teams selected to submit full applications.

2. Full proposals are then due around the middle of September, on invitation only.

Letters of intent

Projects will be pre-screened upon reception by a small scientific committee (three HFSP Scientific Directors and two members of the Review Committee) for the eligibility of the applicants and for concordance with the scientific scope. Any project that does not meet the requirements will not be sent for review, and the Principal Applicant will be informed as soon as possible.

The remaining letters of intent will be evaluated by the Review Committee. Review Committee members evaluate and score the applications following the criteria of novelty, interdisciplinarity as well as team integration. In a second step, a Selection Committee will take the decision which applicants are invited to submit a full proposal. Applicants will be notified early July 2024 whether they are invited to submit a full proposal, with a deadline mid-September 2024.

See HERE for members of the selection committee for the 2025 award round.

Full proposals

Each full proposal is reviewed by at least two members of the Review Committee and by expert reviewers solicited from the scientific community. Every effort is made to obtain at least three independent external reviews per application. The Review Committee members submit their evaluations to the HFSP Secretariat before the committee meets. The committee members are also asked to read all the applications before the meeting to ensure thorough discussion and all full proposals are discussed at the meeting. The same criteria that were applied for the Letters of Intent are used to evaluate the full proposals. About 30 of full proposals are successful.

The Research Grants - Early Career and Program are reviewed as two separate groups but the procedures are identical (see Peer Review Process).

The recommendations of the Review Committee must be approved by members of the Council of Scientists and the Board of Trustees before the awards are announced at the end of March.

See HERE for current members of the Research Grant Review Committee.

HFSP is a signatory to the San Francisco Declaration of Research Assessment (DORA) which we consider to be an incentive to evaluate research proposals on the basis of their content and not solely by the criterion of Journal Impact Factors (JIF). Reviewers at all stages of the HFSP grant application process are advised that they should consider the quality of the research published and/or proposed in an application. While productivity may be an important factor, the assessment will be based on the content of articles and not the JIF. Furthermore HFSP reviewers are asked to consider the influence of candidates’ publications in advancing knowledge in a given field (or throughout biology).


The reason why HFSP aims to support new collaborations is the strong belief that bringing together scientists from different backgrounds, with different tool and mind sets, has high potential to create new breakthrough and innovative thinking. The joint publications are just used as a measure of joint work, irrespective of the publication date, and whether jointly authored publications are from a PhD or post-doc period or from independent scientists.

Thus, while a team of two members who have done their PhD or post-doc in the same lab, sharing the same supervisor and jointly authoring publications, would be formally eligible to apply, there is a high chance that the reviewers will see the publications critically. Independent of publications, they may also see a post-doc done at the same time, in the same lab, as rather clear indication that the scientists have very similar backgrounds, while HFSP aims to support interdisciplinary work, in which each team member brings a different approach and tool set to a project.

This will all, of course,  depend on the number of publications (one or two may be ok, specifically if they are multi-author papers or reviews) and also on the question, whether they are in the same field as the proposed project. Such publications may also be less relevant if 20 years have passed, but seen more critically if 10 or less years have passed.

In the application, teams have to list joint publications, and they can also enter a short explanation why they think these should not be considered.

Each award year, we receive around 700 Letters of Intent (LoIs). Usually, about 10-15% of these are considered by a small scientific committee to be inappropriate with regards to HFSP's funding priorities (see below) and are eliminated from the competition. The other LoIs are each scored in detail by 2 members of the Review Committee, and about a third of the LoIs are further scored by members of the smaller Selection Committee during their meeting. The Selection Committee invites about 80-90 teams (1-15% of the eligible LoIs submitted) to submit a full proposal. About one-third of these are funded (thus 4-5% of the original LoIs).

Common structural reasons for eliminating LoIs are

  • team members have very similar expertise, all within the traditional life sciences
  • the team is clearly aiming to continue an ongoing collaboration (this includes projects with former mentors)
  • the team has two members working at the same institution.
  • Team members have multiple recent joint publications clearly giving evidence of an already ongoing collaboration

Scientific reasons for elimination are given in the Guidelines. HFSPO does not fund:

  • Projects of a purely applied nature. For example,
    • projects of a primarily clinical and pharmaceutical nature, unless they allow new insights into fundamental biological mechanisms of disease;
    • projects aimed at developing methods of diagnosis or treatment, including the search for potential drug targets or advanced trials of drugs under development;
    • applied research in engineering, biotechnology, or nanotechnology, that does not address a fundamental biological problem;
    • projects directly concerned with agricultural or forestry problems such as crop yield or breeding and environmental problems such as pollution.
  • Research aimed at developing novel methods or the study of analogs or models of biological activity unless these methods allow new biological questions to be answered in the context of the aim of the HFSP to fund fundamental research.
  • Observational projects or systematic screening approaches.
  • Large-scale data collection as such, unless there is a convincing rationale for the collection and detailed methodology for the data analysis; this includes the systematic multi-species-omic analyses of populations or ecosystems, which do not address a fundamental biological question of general interest. However, studies of the mechanisms of species-species interactions or their co-evolution are eligible.
  • Research in for-profit environments (but collaborations are allowed).

We receive very many good or excellent projects that would clearly be financed by other funding sources. As HFSP's mission is to finance new lines of research, many are eliminated at this stage as


  • they promise potentially important but still incremental progress in a field, and not an extension of the frontiers, 
  • they are too narrow in focus to have the potential of making a major impact beyond the narrow field.
  • they are essentially a direct extension of ongoing work, often with approaches being used simultaneously in many laboratories worldwide (lack of novelty) or
  • they bring together conventional combinations of scientists from closely related disciplines (all neurobiologists, all structural biologists, all developmental biologists….) and thus fail to meet the criterion of novel combinations of expertise and/or
  • the team fails to convince the reviewers of the planned close collaboration of the entire team. 

The Principal Applicant should be the person who will coordinate and drive the collaboration. This can be a scientist at any career stage but one who can keep the group together and oversee the entire project, not just her or his part in it. Committee members are critical when it is apparent that the nominated Principal Applicant is not appropriate. Note that up to the submission of a letter of intent, the team can change both the Principal Applicant and the team members – instructions for doing this are given in the application form.

Reviewers pay particular attention to the proposed interactions between team members, and you should build the strongest team possible making the most of the different backgrounds of the team members. If the basic rules for participation are respected (especially those of interdisciplinarity and internationality/intercontinentality), proposals are judged solely on scientific merits. You should avoid adding a partner because of his/her geographical location, scientific discipline, or prestigious name (or that of her/his institution) but select each team member for her/his own expertise and expected specific contribution to the project. 

Note that 'add-ons' are easily spotted, for instance adding a theoretician just to make the team look interdisciplinary, with no details of the expected methods, or adding a member from an unusual country, just to assures the intercontinental nature of the team.

By contrast, consider finding team members from other scientific cultures, if they can contribute significantly. Diversity in teams is seen positive, as it adds to the breadth of approaches to the research question. HFSP also strongly supports adding a team member from a country where field work is to be performed, if – and only if – this team member is fully integrated into the team, and not just a “field assistant”. In projects involving two team members from the same country, it is essential that all partners are collaborating closely.

Many applicants do not appreciate what HFSP understands by ‘risk’. HFSP means “high risk - high reward” – thus, a bold project that aims very high, at achieving something that may presently seem unlikely but would make a very important major contribution to the field. Still, it is not simply that « It's risky because it may or may not work ». A hand waving « but we hope it will », followed by a few vaguely described experiments, will not convince the reviewers of a full proposal. What is expected is that according to the team's calculations there is a reasonable chance that it will work – there should be a reasonable chance that the project will succeed one or other way. This might involve a discussion of the current limiting parameters of a technique, and the novel methods proposed that might bring improvements. It may also involve suggesting a “plan B” for the case that the risky part will not work. A project, where the first experiment, on which everything else builds, is unlikely to work out, may also require a clear “plan B”.

Different scientific communities have evolved different ways of tackling problems. HFSP expects international interactions, by creating new interfaces between scientific cultures, to lead to innovative projects. Successful projects from all-European or North American teams are rare. Such teams have tended to submit conventional projects, better suited to national or regional funding agencies. This will not necessarily be the case in the more diverse Asia-Pacific area which also includes important HFSP member countries. Such collaborations will be assessed on their merits for frontier-style innovation.

For HFSP, interdisciplinarity normally means the collaboration of biologists with scientists from disciplines such as chemistry, physics, mathematics, nanoscience, psychology and engineering. However, as many scientists have already received training in various disciplines, an original, novel proposal from a team of ‘biologists’ may be considered appropriate by the review committee if they are combining very different expertise and scientific approaches. Note that this is a rapidly evolving concept: a novel combination of disciplines or methodologies that allowed a significant breakthrough a few years ago may not be scored highly now if the same combination has become routine in the field. Past examples would be structural biology combined with routine functional studies or confocal imaging applied to developmental biology or cell biology. While the skills of non-biologists were essential to design and implement confocal microscopy and the treatment of images, much of this is now widely available (often commercially). The same applies to bioinformatics particularly in the fields of neurobiology or immunology, where these approaches are now part of the discipline. In these fields it would be expected that a computational component would also involve cutting edge science. More recently, organoids have moved from being a new development to more routine use. In short, the use of 'off the shelf' tools would not be considered by the Review Committee as the mark of a truly innovative project. 

If a team has 5 members or two members in the same country, the review committee will scrutinize interdisciplinarity specifically carefully. Generally, teams with two team members from the same country are discouraged because of HFSP’s aim to promote new collaborations across the world. In the case of two team members from the same country representing different disciplines, they will be considered as 1.5 team members for calculating the amount of the award. Such financial calculations are made only after the scientific review is completed and an award recommended, and will take moves by team members after application into account. 

HFSP recognizes that theoreticians such as computational biologists will not have a conventional laboratory and may not lead a research group. The same may apply to researchers very early in their career as independent scientists. As long as they are working in an academic institute, they are eligible as team members. If you have a doubt, please contact the office at explaining the circumstances.

By contrast to other funders which may have specific calls for early career and more senior researchers, HFSP Program Grants are open to all, while Early Career Grants are reserved specifically for those teams with exclusively early career researchers. In assessing applications for Program Grants reviewers are instructed to bear in mind the age and research experience of the investigators, and many successful Program Grant teams include early career investigators. As there is no quota for Early Career and Program Grants, the distribution will differ from year to year depending on the relative quality of the applications in the two categories, but generally, the success rates are similar in both schemes, and many “almost early career” teams succeed in the program category.

Each year a number of teams apply for a Research Grant – Early Career, although one member is more than ten years from their PhD (or MD) or more than 5 years from starting an independent group at the time of the submission of the Letter of Intent. HFSP takes periods of  parental leave, compulsory military service or major medical conditions into consideration please see the Guidelines. Such periods need to be included in the applicant’s CV in the application to benefit from an extension of the eligibility criteria.
Apart from these there can be no special exceptions as we apply the same rules to all applicants. Such teams should apply in the Program Grant competition where they will be just as successful (see the question on differences between both programs). Teams that apply for a Research Grant – Early Career without qualifying for it, are notified, and the applications moved to the Program Grants.

HFSP does not have the means to support all the young scientists who would like to start a laboratory. Our aim is to support researchers that have been selected already by a university or research institution to develop an independent group. However, if you are expecting to move to such a position by October, you may apply for the letter of intent deadline as principal applicant or co-applicant of a team. If this is the case, you will have to provide a formal confirmation from the head of department of the receiving institute in the beginning of June clarifying that you have accepted the position. Failing this, the Selection Committee will not consider inviting a full application.

To apply for a research grant, each team member must be able to determine the course of the HFSP-funded project and have freedom to administer the grant award. In cases of doubt, HFSP reserves the right to obtain written confirmation from the head of department or research environment regarding the freedom to conduct the research independently.