Grant competition launches for studies to accelerate international COVID-19 data-focussed health research

| 17/12/2020

Today, 17 December 2020, the International COVID-19 Data Alliance (ICODA) and Grand Challenges are announcing an open funding call for research studies to accelerate knowledge of COVID-19 through data science.

Applications for the Grand Challenges ICODA COVID-19 Data Science initiative are sought from researchers working in healthcare, academia, industry or charities, and will be accepted from any geography, with applications from lower and middle-income countries particularly welcomed. The initiative seeks projects that cover one of a broad range of areas, including: epidemiology and transmission, vaccines and prophylaxis, infections and prevention, therapeutics and clinical management.

“The Grand Challenge ICODA Data Science initiative offers opportunities for researchers to make significant progress on challenges related to COVID-19 and enable a more effective response to current and future pandemics,” comments Dr Steven Kern, Deputy Director of Quantitative Sciences, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Successful studies must use data to answer important research questions about COVID-19 within a 6- 12month timescale, demonstrating tangible public health impact. Organisations bidding for funds must bring clearly defined data sets, to enable this to be used in the global research response to the pandemic.

Between US$25,000-$100,000 is available for each successful study, which must be completed within six to 12 months.  In addition, award winners will have access to resources, technology and processes (with an estimated value of over US$150k) from the ICODA team and its partners, as well as opportunities for collaboration across a global researcher community.

To ensure the studies are focused on direct public benefit, each study is expected to demonstrate how they will involve patients and public in the oversight, design and delivery of the project, following a set of principles for open and responsible data sharing and global collaboration.

Award winners will join ICODA’s ambitious programme of work to unite international health data science to enable discoveries that benefit everyone, everywhere. Its aim is to reduce the harm of COVID-19 and enable an efficient data response to future pandemics and other global health challenges.

Professor Andrew Morris, Director of Health Data Research UK and Chair of ICODA, emphasises: “This new initiative will enable data scientists to collaborate and address major research challenges associated with COVID-19, build global communities and use ICODA’s workbench and tools to achieve major scientific progress and impact.”

For further information about the Grand Challenges ICODA initiative and to apply please visit us here.

The closing date for applications is 24:00 GMT/UTC on Tuesday 19 January 2021.


About the International COVID-19 Data Research Alliance (ICODA)

The International COVID-19 Data Alliance (ICODA) brings together an international coalition of partners to enable discoveries that benefit everyone, everywhere, by reducing the harm of COVID-19, and to enable an efficient data response to future pandemics and health challenges.

ICODA offers data contributors a streamlined process to facilitate access to data, with rigorous data governance based on the ‘five safes’ framework: safe projects, safe data, safe people, safe settings, safe outputs. Importantly, data contributors can retain control of decisions about how data they hold can be accessed and used.  ICODA’s secure workbench environment includes a wide range of analytical tools and fosters collaborations between researchers and data scientists, to support high quality science.  Where data cannot be transferred, ICODA is pioneering the use of federated analysis across data repositories.

ICODA is funded by the COVID-19 Therapeutics Accelerator, a large-scale initiative initiated by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Wellcome, Mastercard with additional support from Minderoo Foundation, and other donors to speed the development of and access to therapies for COVID-19.

To find out more about ICODA, including its partners, please visit

About Health Data Research UK

Health Data Research UK is the national institute for health data that includes England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Its mission is to unite the UK’s health data to enable discoveries that improve people’s lives. It is a not-for-profit public benefit company funded by UK Research and Innovation, the Department of Health and Social Care in England and equivalent bodies in Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland, and leading medical research charities.

For more information, please visit

About Grand Challenges

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation recognizes that solving the most pressing challenges in global health and development requires more of the world’s brightest minds working on them. The Grand Challenges family of initiatives seeks to engage innovators from around the world to solve these challenges. Grand Challenges initiatives are united by their focus on fostering innovation, directing research to where it will have the most impact, and serving those most in need.

To learn more, please visit

About Grand Challenges ICODA


ICODA and Grand Challenges have launched the new Grand Challenges ICODA COVID-19 Data Science pilot initiative to focus on addressing major questions about how to reduce the harm of COVID-19 and future pandemics.  The initiative aims to unite data and develop processes, analytical tools and infrastructure to achieve rapid scientific progress and impact, and is a pilot for the ongoing Grand Challenges that seek to develop global collaboration and innovative approaches to major health challenges.

Grand Challenges is a family of initiatives, launched by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in 2003, to solve key global health and development problems. Selected projects will become part of ICODA’s portfolio of Driver Projects, helping to further develop processes, tools and infrastructure to accelerate scientific progress and foster collaboration between researchers and the public around the world.  This pilot will lead to a larger Grand Challenges Data Science call in late 2021, which will be led by global Grand Challenges partners.

Focus and timeline

The Grand Challenges ICODA COVID-19 Data Science initiative will provide awards of up to US$100,000 for studies lasting for between 6-12 months, starting in late June 2021 onwards. In addition, successful applicants will have access to ICODA’s digital workbench, as well as technical and wider support from ICODA and its partners.

Proposals are welcomed from any country or region, with particular priority for those involving researchers and datasets from LMICs.

The Grand Challenges ICODA COVID-19 Data Science initiative launched on 17 December 2020. The deadline for initial submissions was 19 January 2021. The awards will be announced in late June 2021.

Online Information Workshop

Further to our announcement of the Grand Challenges ICODA COVID-19 Data Science pilot initiative for research studies to accelerate progress on addressing COVID-19 through data science, ICODA and Grand Challenges held an online information workshop on 07 January 2021. Researchers from a wide range of organisations and over 140 countries around the world registered for the workshop.

Main agenda points:

• An overview of the Grand Challenges ICODA COVID-19 Data Science pilot initiative, and what we are looking for in applications
• An outline of the longer-term vision for the Global Grand Challenges data science initiatives and how this pilot will contribute
• How the ICODA Workbench and tools, as well as other resources that we will make available to Grantees, will enable and support the selected research studies
• Further information on the terms of the grant awards and what will be supported
• Significant time to address the questions raised during the workshop.

A recording of the event is below, and the presentation slides are available here.

How will we continue the conversation?

We were delighted with the high level of engagement and the large number of questions we received. We received several questions asking if we can facilitate potential applicants who are interested in forming partnerships. We are delighted to announce that we have set up a collaborative website on a platform called a Synapse to help those who would like to build partnerships to support their applications.

We will also be using Synapse to post answers to your questions going forward so please sign up to join the Synapse community so you can see these answers as soon as they are added. Please also now use Synapse to raise any additional questions so we can respond more efficiently and make this information available to the entire community.

A great way to stay connected with ICODA and informed on this grant initiative is also via our social media pages, please join us on TwitterFacebook and LinkedIn.

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