2023 Cancer Grand Challenges Grants


Opportunity type:



Cancer Research UK / National Cancer Institute

Award amount and duration:

Up to £20 million over 5 years


Faculty, Postdoc

Eligible teams must:

  • Comprise a diverse group of investigators, each of whom has a demonstrated record of accomplishments in advancing their respective fields; 
  • Be interdisciplinary, drawing on researchers with complementary and integrated expertise, and attracting new thinking to cancer research;
  • Be international, facilitating global collaboration between researchers;
  • Incorporate training for future leaders in cancer research;
  • Demonstrate an ability to operate as a highly functional research team, with maximum cohesion and collaboration.
  • Be led and organised in such a way that is appropriate to achieve the team’s scientific objectives.

Applicants should carefully consider the most appropriate make-up for their team and how it will be structured and managed. Teams must be international in nature, with no more than 70% of the activity (and funding) being based in a single country. There is no requirement for teams to be led by, or comprise team members, who are based in the UK or US.


Cancer Grand Challenges is a global research initiative founded in 2020 by the two largest funders of cancer research in the world: Cancer Research UK (CRUK) and the National Cancer Institute (NCI) in the US. By daring global teams of multidisciplinary researchers to come together and think differently, Cancer Grand Challenges aims to find bold new solutions to challenges, some of which have confounded scientists for many years.

Cancer Grand Challenges supports a global community of world-class research teams to come together, think differently and take on some of cancer’s toughest challenges. These challenges continue to impede research progress, and no one scientist, institution or country will be able to solve them alone. Cancer Grand Challenges teams are empowered to transcend the traditional boundaries of geography and discipline, and ultimately change outcomes for people with cancer.

Challenge #1: Ageing and Cancer

Decipher the functional basis underlying the association between ageing somatic tissues and cancer. This challenge seeks to understand how ageing-associated molecular changes in somatic cells and immune dysfunction together with endogenous and exogenous environmental factors, impact early cancer initiation in ageing somatic tissues, and organ-specific cancer risk. Addressing this challenge would provide a deep functional understanding of diverse cellular and immune ageing processes and their functional consequences on organ-specific cancer risk.

Challenge #2: Cancer Cell Plasticity

Understand cancer cell plasticity and its contribution to the development of pan-therapeutic resistance in cancer. This challenge seeks to expand our knowledge of the developmental switching programmes of cancer cells, how they contribute to cancer progression and what mechanisms, epigenetic or otherwise, govern them. By addressing this challenge new insights into these complex processes will be gleaned, potentially leading to improved patient survival.

Challenge #3: Cancer Inequities

Understand the mechanisms through which genetics, biology, and social determinants affect cancer risk and outcomes in diverse populations, to motivate interventions to reduce cancer inequities. This challenge seeks to generate functional and mechanistic insights into cancer inequities by generating new transdisciplinary approaches applied in diverse populations. This challenge will lay the groundwork for the development, evaluation, and implementation of future prevention, early detection, and treatment strategies to achieve equity in cancer outcomes for all people.

Challenge #4: Chemotherapy-induced Neurotoxicities

Understand and prevent chemotherapy-induced neurotoxicity and neuropathy. This challenge will bring together a concerted effort to maximise our understanding in the pathophysiology of chemotherapy-induced neurological toxicities. The knowledge gained from this challenge will enable the development of hypothesis-driven clinical trials in the prevention and treatment of chemotherapy-induced neurological toxicity, rendering these side effects no longer dose-limiting in the treatment of cancer patients.

Challenge #5: Early-onset Cancers

Determine why the incidence of early-onset cancers in adults is rising globally. The goal of this challenge is to gain a robust understanding of the mechanisms underpinning the biological and environmental causes behind the global phenomenon of early-onset cancers. If we better understand the mechanisms by which changes in the exposome lead to higher cancer burden at a younger age, translatable interventions that may reduce the associated morbidity and mortality may be designed subsequently.

Challenge #6: Obesity, Physical Activity and Cancer

Determine the mechanisms through which obesity and physical activity influence cancer risk. This challenge seeks to build on the observed association between obesity and sedentary behaviour and cancer risk and to understand causative mechanisms to inform interventions to alter risk. Understanding the effects of obesity and physical activity on cancer will accelerate development of interventions to reduce global cancer incidence and mortality and prolong survival. This will have population impact worldwide.

Challenge #7: Retrotransposable Elements

Understand the roles of retrotransposable elements in cancer. Addressing this challenge will solidify our understanding of how retrotransposable elements are regulated, evolve, reactivate, and reintegrate. This could provide new therapeutic targets to maintain genome stability in cancer, prevent retroelement reactivation, and understand their impact on the innate immune system.

Challenge #8: Solid Tumours in Childran

Develop therapeutics to target oncogenic drivers of solid tumours in children. Paediatric cancer drug development is inefficient and resources to develop drugs for paediatric cancers are often rate limiting. Development of effective targeted therapeutics for paediatric solid tumours will improve survival and diminish the lifelong toxicities experienced by survivors of these diseases.

Challenge #9: T-cell Receptors

Decipher the T-cell receptor cancer-recognition code. This challenge seeks to develop a comprehensive understanding of the TCR-peptide-MHC interaction and to improve our knowledge of the nature of the cancer antigens that are recognised by T cells. The ultimate goal of this challenge is to improve and broaden the efficacy of cancer immunotherapies and therefore proposals could include initial (pre-clinical) proof-of-concept studies to validate the tools developed by the challenge team.

Available Funding

Cancer Grand Challenges awards provide up to £20 million for the direct costs of research (research staff, associated running costs and equipment) and all patient advocate involvement and engagement activities. Direct costs are those costs that arise from the conduct of the research undertaken and are verifiable from accounting records.

If funded, each institution hosting a component of a Cancer Grand Challenges award will be individually issued their proportion of the direct costs. ~50% of the direct costs will be issued in pounds sterling (GBP) by Cancer Research UK through a Grant Award Letter; ~50% will be issued in US dollars (USD) by NCI through a Notice of Award.



Variable.Cancer Research UK and NCI will consider supporting indirect costs as a proportion of their individual contributions to the direct costs at each institution as follows:

  • Institutions in the UK: No indirect costs from Cancer Research UK; 8% of direct costs from NCI
  • Institutions in the US: 10% of direct costs from Cancer Research UK; institution's federally negotiated rate from NCI
  • All other institutions: Up to 10% from Cancer Research UK; no indirect costs from NCI



Pre-application deadlines

RSO internal deadline

June 19, 2023 - 12:00 PM

Pre-application program deadline

June 22, 2023 - 12:00 PM

Application deadlines

RSO detailed review deadline

October 12, 2023 - 12:00 PM

RSO final internal review deadline

October 23, 2023 - 12:00 PM

Program application deadline

October 26, 2023 - 12:00 PM


NOTE: Consult your Faculty Associate Dean (Research) (ADR) regarding Faculty-specific deadlines and submission processes.

Principal Investigators: Complete a Research Management System (RMS) record, including a copy of your complete application, and submit this for approvals in RMS.

Postdocs, students, and trainees: For fellowships and externally-sponsored research training awards or opportunities, you must complete the Research Funding Application Approval (RFAA) Trainee PDF form, and submit it, along with a complete copy of the application, to Research Services at rsogrants@ucalgary.ca. Trainees should not use RMS at this time.

Approvals: The University of Calgary requires that all funding applications be approved prior to submission. Approval requires signatures via either RMS or the RFAA Trainee form, in the following order:

  • Principal Investigator
  • Department Head
  • Faculty ADR/Dean
  • Research Services (on behalf of the Vice-President Research)

Read the Meaning of Grant Signatures policy to understand what your approval means. Please see the agency guidelines for details about which signatures are required on your application, as it may differ from internal requirements.

Late submissions: Late submissions will only be accepted in cases of medical or family emergencies, or other exceptional circumstances. If you submit your RMS record to Research Services after the internal deadline has passed, you must secure additional approvals. Please read: Late Applications Process.

Additional Information

You can find the Expression of Interest (EOI) Guidelines here. They contain all you need to know about how to put together an EOI and what we’re looking for from applicant teams. You will need to be registered with Cancer Research UK’s grants management system, Flexi-Grant. Visit cancerresearchuk.flexigrant.com and follow the 'Register' link. 

Applicants must complete the eligibility questionnaire by 15 June 2023. Once you’ve done so, an EOI form will be opened for you on Flexi-Grant – or a member of the Cancer Grand Challenges office team will be in touch with any questions about your answers.


Contact Details


2023 Cancer Grand Challenges
Cancer Research UK; National Cancer Institute
Ageing and Cancer; Cancer Cell Plasticity; Cancer Inequities; Chemotherapy-induced Neurotoxicities; Early-onset Cancers; Obesity, Physical Activity and Cancer; Retrotransposable Elements; Solid Tumours in Childran; T-cell Receptors
International Foundations