A message from David Montgomery, our Director of Research

Last updated Monday 27 April

Please note: information about coronavirus (Covid-19) for people who have, or have had, prostate cancer, can be found here.

Covid-19 will have an undeniable impact on research in cancer across the UK, and we know that the past few weeks have been challenging for prostate cancer researchers, as will the weeks and perhaps months to come.

We want to stay in communication with you as much as possible so we can fully understand disruptions to your research. Keeping us informed will help us do everything we can to support you and our other researchers, so please don’t hesitate to get in touch with us at research@prostatecanceruk.org  if you have any concerns, questions or issues relating to your Prostate Cancer UK-funded research. 

We are continuing to closely monitor the situation and reviewing how our research commitments and our future plans will be affected by this pandemic. We are, of course, anticipating an inevitable drop in our research activity in the short-term, due to the current lock-down and physical distancing measures that mean our researchers are temporarily without access to their laboratories and have had to put lab-based experiments on hold. We therefore need grant holders to take all practical measures to minimise the long term impact to their projects. 

These measures will give us the best possible chance of emerging from this crisis in a state that enables us to support you to complete the work we have funded, and to resume funding new research as soon as possible. Read our FAQs below for more information.

We are in the process of understanding the longer-term impact of the current situation on both our fundraising and our research programme. Until that time, we are putting all new research decisions on hold, but will try to maintain our commitments to ongoing research as far as possible.

We are, as ever, completely committed to funding research to help us stop prostate cancer limiting men’s lives, and are doing everything we can to ensure as little disruption to our research programme as possible as the national situation unfolds. We will update this page as and when our plans develop over the coming weeks.

Funded research

What is Prostate Cancer UK’s position on the use of the Government’s Job Retention Scheme for staff employed through its research grants?

As you are already aware, COVID-19 and the measures taken to contain it are causing us all major issues on a range of fronts. For Prostate Cancer UK, as for the charity sector as a whole, one of the most critical issues is the current and future impact on our income.

We’ve been exploring our options to mitigate the impact of a projected major drop in income on our ability to support your research. One of the options we’ve been considering is the government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme. We’ve already used this scheme ourselves to furlough a large proportion of Prostate Cancer UK staff in order to protect our ability to recover from this crisis.

We’re asking universities and PIs to use this scheme where possible, in order to ensure that you will still be able to deliver your projects within budget once activity is able to resume again.

We ask you to do all you can at this point to ensure that your programmes do not incur any additional costs at this stage, and staffing costs while your teams are unable to do work is one area we think it is especially important to look at. These measures will help to limit the financial impact on your research grant during a time when the project is unable to progress as a result of the pandemic, and will ensure that we can emerge from this crisis in the best possible position to continue to support you in completing your project.

We know there has been some confusion about whether university research staff are eligible for this scheme. However, working with other charities through the AMRC, we have now received clear guidance that researchers whose salaries are funded by charity or commercial funders are eligible.

Please contact us at research@prostatecanceruk.org if you have any questions regarding your grant.

For the majority of our grants, we understand this will result in your grant being put into abeyance. However, we recognise there may be some exceptions where grants can proceed exactly as originally intended or where furloughing staff could jeopardise, rather than protect, delivery of the funded work and these projects can continue. For more information, read the FAQs below.

What do I need to do to put my grant into abeyance, and what does this mean for my grant?

We will contact you to discuss the arrangements with your project and decide whether your grant should be put into abeyance. Your grant will be put into abeyance if activity cannot proceed as originally planned and where no costs are being incurred. We will agree a date from which the grant will be suspended and a timeline for when we will review whether the project can be re-activated. Once re-activated, the end date of the grant will automatically be extended for the corresponding duration of the suspension to give you the time needed to complete your project.

My project is still able to continue as planned, or I have critical work currently underway that cannot be stopped. What should I do?

We recognise there may be some exceptions where grants can proceed exactly as originally intended or where furloughing staff could jeopardise, rather than protect, delivery of the funded work.

If you think this applies to your grant, please get in touch with the research team at research@prostatecanceruk.org and we will work with you to agree the best course of action for you and your grant. 

Will there be the opportunity to get a no-cost extension on my project?

For all grants that have been put into abeyance, the duration of the suspension will automatically be added on to the end of your project to give you time to continue your research once the grant has been re-activated. If you believe you will require more time on top of this, we will consider a further no-cost extension to your project to make up for any additional time lost due to the coronavirus pandemic. Please don’t apply for the extension any sooner than three months before the end date of your grant, so that all factors can be considered and multiple requests for the same award can be avoided. All requests for extensions should be made prior to your award end date and you must complete and return a change request form. To do this, please email the Research Team.

If your project is due to end in the next three months, please get in touch with the Research Team to discuss your options and to agree upon an appropriate way forward.

If your project is still able to continue and is not put into abeyance, then we are likely to be less supportive of offering no-cost extensions come the end of the project. We strongly recommend that projects are put on hold at this point in time in all but exceptional circumstance.

Will you be offering costed extensions?

We understand that in many instances, some costs, particularly salary costs, will have continued to accrue while your research is not able to progress. As a result, some grants may reach the end of their funding before the end of the work originally proposed to us. For this reason, you should take every step possible to minimise the grant expenditure at this point in time, including making use of the Government Job Retention Scheme.

Unfortunately, we are facing major fundraising challenges due to Covid-19 and the associated measures put in place to contain the virus, and are facing a significant drop in income. Therefore, despite our desire to support you in completing the work we have funded, we are unable to commit to providing costed extensions at this point.

We are liaising with the Association of Medical Research Charities and others to influence government to support the sector. Following these consultations, we have now received clear guidance that researchers whose salaries are funded by charity or commercial funders are eligible for the Government Job Retention Scheme, to support universities during this time and help mitigate additional costs and delays incurred. We are continuing these discussions and will provide any further updates when available.

I, or a member of my team, have been asked to support front-line NHS services – is this acceptable?

We wholeheartedly support any of our funded researchers, or members of their team, who wish to help front-line NHS services during this period. This excludes where there is a duty of care to continue treating prostate cancer patients enrolled onto Prostate Cancer UK funded clinical trials. Such decisions must be made locally, but please do let us know if and how your study may be affected by clinical staff supporting NHS services. We will stay in close communication with relevant teams to ensure projects can be re-instated when the time is right.

For clinical academics seconded back to the NHS, it is our expectation that the NHS will cover their salary during this time. Please keep a record of any staff members supporting front-line services, the duration of redeployment (start/end dates) and the salary contributions recoverable from the NHS.

Further, if any of your team wish to volunteer to support the NHS more generally during the coming weeks, we would be supportive of this.

What’s your policy on sick leave during this time?

If you or any of your team become unwell or need to self-isolate, we will follow the employing organisation’s own policy on sick leave and absence. In accordance with the terms of your contract, your institution should cover the costs of any long-term sick leave of staff funded on the grant.

I’ve been awarded a grant but haven’t yet started my project. Will I be able to start work as planned?

Due to the uncertain and challenging circumstances we find ourselves in, we strongly recommend that any new projects that have not yet started delay commencing until a time when it can be carried out unhindered and as originally planned. Start dates must be agreed with us in advance, and we will stay in close communication and set regular review dates to ensure your project can get started as soon as possible.

We understand that, for some of you, delaying the start date of your grant may present some challenges, for instance where an individual has been identified or recruited onto the grant already. Again, we strongly recommend that you consider utilising the Government Job Retention Scheme in this instance. Projects should not start until a time when the research can be carried out unencumbered and as originally planned.

Funding calls

What impact will Covid-19 have on Prostate Cancer UK’s upcoming funding calls?

We are taking every step we can to mitigate and minimise the impact of the current situation to our research programme. However, in these unprecedented times, we unfortunately have had to make some difficult decisions. Below you’ll find our plans for each of our upcoming funding calls. We will regularly review our position on each of these calls as the national situation evolves.

Research Innovation Awards

We’ve made the difficult decision to postpone our current round of Research Innovation Awards, and plan to reschedule for a more settled time. We’ve made this decision for several reasons. Our Research Innovation Awards rely on our ability to fundraise, and given current economic uncertainty, we feel it’s sensible to consider the financial implications to the charity and postpone our grant funding until we have a clearer picture as to how Prostate Cancer UK will be affected by the situation we are currently facing. In addition, with travel restrictions and extra pressure on clinicians, we’ve found it difficult to convene our Research Advisory Committee meeting to assess the proposals, and don’t want to compromise our grant funding process.

We appreciate all the time and effort that has gone into applications to date, and sincerely apologise that we can’t move forward with our funding process at this time. We intend to pick up this round of Research Innovation Awards at a later date, and will keep you fully informed as our plans evolve

There will also be a delay to the launch of the next round of the Research Innovation Awards. Information on this round will be provided on our website and via our research newsletter in due course.

Major Awards in Curative Treatments

We are pleased to be running our Major Awards in Curative Treatments as planned, with applications opening in Summer 2020. This has been made possible thanks to previous donations from Movember, which had been restricted to this call prior to the coronavirus pandemic.

If you have previously applied to our 2019 Research Innovation Awards, which we have made the difficult decision to postpone due to uncertainty around our ability to raise the funds for them, you are welcome to transfer your application to our Major Awards in Curative Treatments call if it fits within the remit of this call. Please contact the Research Team at Prostate Cancer UK to discuss whether this is something you wish to do.

Further details about this funding opportunity will be published on our website and announced via our research newsletter in due course.

Upcoming events

Making Progress Day

In light of current events, we’ve decided to reschedule Making Progress Day, our annual networking event for early career researchers, to Friday 4 December 2020. We sincerely hope that current health advice will allow us to run the event in December, but if we have any concerns for the health and wellbeing of our attendees, we will look to reschedule again. To keep up to date with the latest developments, please follow our research newsletter.

You can find out more information about the day and register your place on our website. If you have already registered for the event, please get in touch with the Research Team to confirm if you would still like to join us in December. We look forward to seeing you then.

March for Men

Unfortunately, we’ve made the difficult decision to postpone all ten March for Men events. We think it’s the right thing to do in the circumstances, for the health of our supporters, men with prostate cancer, and everyone else who is affected by the rapid spread of coronavirus through travel and social contact.

We’re incredibly grateful to all our researchers who considered volunteering with us at our March for Men events this summer. We’re currently investigating alternative plans and dates for 2020, and hope you’ll consider helping us again. We’ll share more information on the rescheduled events when we know more.