International Day of Immunology – let´s talk about research funding for immunologists

April 29 is the International Day of Immunology. These days, we know the immune system can do amazing things – from fighting against infections to harnessing the power of the immune system against cancer. The knowledge that we have today does not come free – every year, billions of dollars are spent on biomedical research. But even the best-funded immunologist will tell you, the competition for research funding is fierce. This is particularly true for big-name funders, such as the likes of the NIH and the ERC, where success rates range from 8-20% depending on the number of applications each year. 

Luckily for immunologists, there are many research funding sources available, including immunology societies and charitable foundations. Especially for early-career immunologists, this initial research funding could be crucial when it comes to launching a successful long-term research career. Let’s take a look at these funders.

A great starting point: the immunology societies

As learned societies, immunology societies around the world have a mandate to support their members and many societies do so with fellowships, research grants, and travel funds. The European Federation of Immunological Societies (EFIS), for example, supports short-term fellowships for its members to visit another laboratory and funds the prestigious EFIS/EJI Ita Askonas Award to recognize the contribution of women immunologists in Europe. The American Association of Immunologists (AAI) has an extensive funding portfolio, including travel funding, fellowships and achievements awards for immunologists at all career levels. Other immunology societies around the world, such as the British Society of Immunology (BSI) and the German Society of Immunology (DGfI) all have their own versions of awards and travel grants to support their members. So, why not check with your immunology society to see what they have to offer?

Cancer immunology and immunotherapy funders

In 2013, cancer immunotherapy was declared the breakthrough of the year by Science and in 2018, the American immunologist James P. Allison and Japanese immunologist Tasuku Honjo won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for their work on cancer therapy via inhibiting the stop signals of the immune system. Today, research on cancer immunotherapy continues to thrive as a result of abundant funding support. The Cancer Research Institute (CRI) is a prime example of a charitable funder supporting cancer immunotherapy approaches. The Institute supports researchers worldwide, including funding for postdoctoral fellows and for established researchers. Also covered by the CRI is funding to promote researcher diversity in cancer immunotherapy. The Society for Immunotherapy of Cancer (SITC) is a US-based learned society dedicated to cancer immunotherapy and funds numerous cancer immunotherapy postdoctoral fellowships for its members worldwide. Applications for the annual fellowships close in April each year. 

In addition to the cancer immunotherapy funders, many of the cancer research funders and societies around the world, including the American Cancer Society, Cancer Research UK (CRUK), European Association of Cancer Research (EACR), Melanoma Research Foundation (MRF), Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation, Gateway for Cancer Research, and the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) all have programs that are open to cancer immunology and immunotherapy researchers, including funding for clinical studies and clinical trials. 

Autoimmunity research funding

The immune system can do amazing things for us when it comes to protecting us from infections. However, when the immune system is not working as it should, the consequences can range from mildly annoying, such as our seasonal allergies, to a serious impact on our quality of life and shortened life expectancy, such as for the sufferers of lupus or multiple sclerosis. Many funders are dedicated to helping us better understand autoimmune diseases, develop therapies and find cures. Funders that support lupus research include the Lupus Research Alliance, which supports lupus researchers in Canada and the USA with a diverse portfolio of funding at all career stages, including funds for research teams and for supporting diversity in lupus research. 

Funders that support multiple sclerosis research include the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, which funds primarily US-based researchers with some funds open to researchers worldwide, including postdoctoral funding. For UK-based researchers, the MS Society provides fellowships and research grants with most grants opening in March and the first applications closing in April annually. MS Australia funds MS researchers at all career stages in Australia who are citizens or permanent residents of Australia or New Zealand. 

For researchers working on inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation provides extensive funding support with early-career awards for US-based researchers while their funding competition for independent researchers is open to investigators worldwide. The European Crohn’s and Colitis Organisation (ECCO) funds its members worldwide with research grants, postdoctoral fellowships, and travel grants, as well as funding exclusively for its nurse and dietician members. The International Organization for the Study of Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IOIBD) is another IBD society supporting its members with research and travel grants. 

For researchers working on autoimmune arthritis, the Rheumatology Research Foundation supports rheumatologists in the USA, European Alliance of Associations for Rheumatology (EULAR) supports European rheumatologists with travel and research grants, including funding for writing support of EU grant applications. Versus Arthritis supports UK-based arthritis researchers with numerous funding programs, including substantial career development fellowships for new independent researchers. For those working on psoriasis, the National Psoriasis Foundation supports researchers worldwide at all career stages. 

Infectious disease and vaccine research funders

Of course, we are not forgetting that this year’s theme for the International Day of Immunology is vaccines. Vaccines have helped us reduce much of the burden of infectious diseases, especially in the developed world. From vaccines against smallpox, polio, to COVID-19 – vaccines have prevented us from developing potentially deadly diseases and improved our overall quality of life.  However, vaccine hesitation around the world clearly suggests that the challenge in eradicating infectious disease through active vaccination requires more than immunology research and technological progress but rather, requires substantial efforts from sociology research as well. 

For early-career vaccine researchers, the Human Vaccines Project together with Michelson Philanthropy provides research awards for early-career researchers around the world working on human vaccines. Taking the capacity-building concept further, many funders are starting to recognize the importance of addressing issues from a local perspective and supporting research capacity building where it is needed most. Funders such as the Wellcome Trust, the Medical Research Foundation, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) via its Fogarty International Center, and the European & Developing Countries Clinical Trials Partnership (EDCTP) funded by the European Union, all provide funding schemes that require collaborations with researchers in developing countries. 

Looking forward – more research funding for vaccine research

Just as Elie Metchnikoff, the father of innate immunity said “whatever concerns health is of real public interest”, vaccine research is vitally important for our continued wellbeing as a species and ought to be of real public interest. To further vaccine and immunology research, and to celebrate this year´s International Day of Immunology, we’ve compiled a curated list of immunology-specific research funding opportunities.

We’ve seen what the research community can achieve with accelerated international collaboration, increased funding and open science at the onset of the pandemic. At scientifyRESEARCH, we have a mission to ensure the world’s best research ideas are funded. Join us to spread the word, help the most promising researchers around the world to get research funding and turn their research ideas into reality.