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Looking to the future with our new Director of Programme Grants

Professor Marian Knight

Published: 19 October 2023

Professor Marian Knight, incoming Director for Programme Grants for Applied Research, reflects on her aims for the Programme.

As I take over as Director of Programme Grants for Applied Research (PGfAR), I want to begin with thanks to my predecessor Professor Elaine Hay for all her work as Programme Director. 

Diverse research methods

I am very keen to continue to fund programmes which use a diversity of research methods - as outlined by Elaine in her previous blog post.  Specifically, I hope to encourage programmes which might include evaluations using non-trial methodology, data-enabled and multi-sector approaches using a wider variety of methodologies. We will be reaching out to our researcher communities over the next year to raise awareness of this.

New areas 

There are also a few new areas which we are planning to develop. NIHR’s James Lind Alliance Priority Setting Partnerships (PSP) identify research questions which have been prioritised by members of the public and health and social care professionals as the most important ones to address. 

NIHR already has some routes to fund research designed to answer prioritised questions, such as the Health Technology Assessment (HTA) scheme. We believe PGfAR could also play an important role here. For example, questions which are not able to be answered through a single trial could be answered as part of a programme of work funded by PGfAR. 

We will therefore be actively soliciting such programmes, linked to these topics prioritised by members of the public. We will also continue to work with charities where possible, enabling co-funding of priority programmes.

Wearing my other hat as Scientific Director for Research Infrastructure, I hope to see programmes arising from early work undertaken within NIHR Infrastructure coming through to PGfAR. This will enable translation into benefits for patients, carers and service users.

I also aim to encourage ambitious, larger programmes which lead to a stepped change in outcomes. To deliver at scale and pace, such programmes may cost more than the typical programmes we currently fund - in the order of £3-5 million -  but delivering in the same timescales. 

Building on the work of Research for Patient Benefit

PGfAR will also be building on the work of the Research for Patient Benefit programme (RfPB) to encourage applications from researchers from underrepresented disciplines. I am very keen to encourage PGfAR applications led by investigators from underrepresented disciplines and supported by an experienced co-lead. 

We will be exploring the possibility of a fast track expression of interest process for programmes leading on from current awards. These could come from PGfAR, RfPB, fellowships or other NIHR awards.

Addressing strategic priorities

On a final note,  it is important to emphasise that we really want to fund programmes which are responding to current strategic priorities for the UK health and care system. Compound pressures is clearly one of these. The Department of Health and Social Care in England also identifies research focusing on prevention, early diagnosis and appropriate intervention for people at increased risk of poor health as a priority. 

We welcome programmes which tackle research priorities identified in strategies such as the recent Women’s Health Strategy and the forthcoming Major Conditions Strategy in England. Addressing inequalities in health and care outcomes is a cross-cutting theme in many strategies across all four UK nations.  

I am particularly excited to be taking over as Programme Director at a time when the Programme Grants for Applied Research scheme has been opened up to applicants from the devolved administrations. I very much look forward to funding research addressing priorities in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. 

NIHR blog