Special Call on Coronaviruses

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Rapid support for research into coronaviruses and their impact

Following the serious SARS and MERS epidemics of the past, another coronavirus has led to the Covid-19 epidemic, a public health emergency of global proportions. An intensification of research efforts is therefore urgently needed. For this reason, the SNSF is supporting projects involving research into coronaviruses - to tackle the current crisis and prepare for likely future epidemics. The SNSF is convinced that Swiss research can make a difference and has therefore launched a special call. A budget of ten million Swiss francs has provisionally been earkmarked for the call.

​The call opens on 6 March and closes on 25 March 2020. It addresses researchers in all disciplines who are able to contribute to a better understanding of the virus, its spread, the resulting illness as well as diagnosis and treatment, or who can help the health system and society as a whole deal more effectively with the epidemic. The call takes into account the agenda set by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and is in line with the priorities defined by the Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH). Further information about the scope of the call is provided in the call document.

The SNSF will forward the project proposals to international experts for evaluation. Applicants may request up to 300,000 francs for projects lasting up to 24 months. Bigger grants are conceivable, provided the applicant has good reasons for requesting a higher amount. The items covered by the grant are similar to those in national SNSF projects (e.g. equipment, research funds, salaries). The SNSF will endeavour to communicate its funding decisions by mid-May 2020 so that researchers can start work as soon as possible.

On completion of the project, research data must be made available for researchers and authorities worldwide and without delay. The special call is also aimed at enhancing research in Switzerland and expanding research capacity in important areas. This is the first time that the SNSF is launching a call for proposals in response to current events. Based on the experience gained in this call, the SNSF will define criteria to help decide when and how to react to similar situations in the future.

  • Evaluation procedure

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    The SNSF launched the special call on coronaviruses with high urgency in order to generate research results to remedy the current public health crisis. The call was open for only 19 days, and the applications were formally verified, scientifically evaluated and approved by the Research Council in only six weeks. Thanks to this tight schedule, the funded projects will be able to start on 1 June 2020, i.e. less than three months after the call was launched.

    This rapid completion was possible thanks to a modified evaluation process - adjusted to the special situation - and new assessment techniques. The changes mainly concerned the selection of experts, the way applications were assigned to them, and the rating of projects.

    • Formal verification: as usual, the Administrative Offices checked that the applications met the participation requirements and informed the applicants accordingly. The SNSF does not consider applications that do not comply with the rules of scientific integrity or of sound scientific practice.
    • Selection of experts: In contrast to other calls, a pool of suitable experts from the relevant research areas was recruited for the special call already prior to the receipt of applications. The experts were recommended by the National Research Council. Around 200 experts made themselves available. Most of them assessed more than one application, which made comparisons possible.
    • Assignment of applications: All experts described their research profile in keywords. Applying an algorithm and text-mining techniques, the SNSF compared these keywords and the publication data of the experts in Scopus (incl. titles, keywords, abstracts and subject areas) with the applications (titles, keywords, abstracts and disciplines). At the same time, it applied an optimisation procedure to ensure that experts were assigned five to seven applications each. The assignments were subsequently checked by the Administrative Offices of the SNSF and, where necessary , the help of further experts was enlisted.
    • Ranking and approval:I n the context of Covid-19, it was not possible to follow the standard procedure, in which the individual expert reviews are consolidated in an SNSF-internal evaluation body and the projects then compared with each other. The SNSF had to rank the projects directly on the basis of, on average, three external reviews. For this purpose, it applied a mixed-model regression analysis. When rating differences and establishing a ranking, this method takes into account any data variance generated by coincidence, e.g. due to more or less strict marking or different disciplinary assessment cultures. Such regression procedures are for example also used to make qualitative comparisons in the health sector. The highest ranking applications were approved by the National Research Council.
      Example of a regression analysisExternal Link Icon
  • Participation requirements

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    Proposals may be submitted if all of the following personal and formal requirements are met. If several applicants submit a project together, each of the applicants has to meet all of the requirements. The same conditions apply as in project funding.

  • How To

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    You can submit your application as of 6 March 2020 via the mySNF platform. The deadline for proposals is 25 March 2020, 17:00 Swiss local time.

    Please reserve enough time for entering the application in mySNF. If you need to set up a new mySNF user account, please do so one week in advance. In mySNF, you will find detailed instructions on entering and submitting proposals.

    Proposals must be submitted in English and must contain the following information and documents:

    • Administrative information and budget as per the requirements set out in mySNF.
    • Full project description (ten pages plus maximum one page summary and the bibliography) in the template provided in mySNF.
  • Documents

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  • Supplementary measures

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  • News

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