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CHALLENGE PROGRAMME 2025 – Heterogeneity in biomanufacturing

Call opens
9 April 2024
Call closes
9 October 2024 2:00pm (CEST)
Announcement of results
Stage 1: December 2024 Stage 2: June 2025
Application guidelines Send application


The purpose of the Novo Nordisk Foundation’s Challenge Programme is to make a substantial contribution to the development of Danish research ecosystems within strategically relevant research areas. The aim is to give leading researchers the opportunity to assemble a strong team that can collaborate in a centre-like structure with a unifying vision and mission to develop solutions to major challenges. The Programme provides long-term funding to enable scientific depth and focus and facilitate synergy between the research partners.

Research Theme 2025

The programme is a strategic effort targeting specific challenges within annually selected research themes. For the 2025 application call, the Challenge Programme is seeking to support the following research theme:

  • Heterogeneity in biomanufacturing

The challenge is to understand the impact of heterogeneity in biomanufacturing and develop novel approaches for detection, control, and mitigation throughout both upstream and downstream processing. Research must aim to enhance process performance with an emphasis on increasing yield, titre, purity, and productivity, and enable economically viable scaling of disruptive solutions that minimize environmental footprints, save energy, and conserve natural resources. The programme is aimed at fundamental and applied research that merges synthetic biology, microbiology, process engineering, and analytical or digital methodologies to gain insight and develop tools or methods with potential for broad applicability. Research must aim to integrate techno-economic analysis and environmental sustainability impact assessment when relevant.

Variability in biomanufacturing often stems from genetic instability within microbial populations or the complex nature of influents and effluents. Such heterogeneity can impact the efficiency of bioreactors and the recovery of products. Gaining a deeper understanding of heterogeneity in biomanufacturing with emerging technologies could surface opportunities that enhance economic competitiveness of sustainable bio-based solutions, allow use of alternative, non-conventional feedstocks, and accelerate society’s green transition.

The research must be interdisciplinary in nature. Any research methodology or discipline can be included, provided the research incorporates a clear and significant element of biomanufacturing. Research should enable solutions applicable for large volume production of food, ingredients, materials, energy carriers, or other related biomanufacturing sectors. Research can explore pure microbial systems or consortia under aerobic or anaerobic conditions, and may include batch, fed-batch, or continuous processes. While sugar-based fermentation substrates are in scope, gaseous and waste feedstock utilization is encouraged. The Novo Nordisk Foundation highly values integrating data science with biomanufacturing and strongly recommends a clear data science component in the research. Research offering substantial advancements in process performance or cost efficiency at scale will be considered; incremental improvements are not sufficient for broad applicability or impact. Microbial strain development cannot be the primary focus of the research but can be included. Use of mammalian cells for products such as cultivated meat, cell-based milk, or biopharmaceuticals is not in scope. The programme does not include development of specific end-products.

Supported research may include but is not limited to:

  • Exploring and modelling microbial responses to bioproduction heterogeneity, e.g., for a deeper understanding of metabolic and genetic regulatory networks, the use of waste as a feedstock, or strategies for enhancing microbe resilience to process fluctuations during scale-up.
  • Development of novel bioreactor designs or other systems engineering to overcome heterogeneous gas-liquid mass transfer, reduce nutrient starvation or high osmotic stress zones, or reduce pH or substrate gradients, e.g., with pelleting, or mixing systems for biomanufacturing of bulk food ingredients or other bioproducts.
  • Development of unit operations and new materials for product recovery and purification that reduce the need for excessive, undesired treatment of bioreactor effluents or adapt physicochemical properties of fermentation broths, e.g., with green solvents, or centrifugal pump impeller systems.
  • Development of computational tools to predict gradients, reduce heterogeneity, understand the effect of oscillations on cell factories, or re-think automated production workflows, e.g., integrating computational fluid dynamics with metabolic modelling, population balance modelling, or single-cell analytics.
  • Development of process analytical technology tools for real-time detection, measurement, and control of deviations in raw materials, bioreactors, or during product recovery, e.g., using spectroscopy, mass spectrometry, solid-liquid separation technologies, sensors, digital twins, or other data analytics for inter- and intra-batch variations, inoculum transfers, or the removal of toxicants, contaminants, and by-products.
  • Development of downscaling tools to predict process performance and reduce the risks of process failures when scaling up to larger production volumes.


The Challenge Programme supports excellent research leaders from 2-4 research groups (main applicant plus 1-3 co-applicants).

The programme leader must be at least 75% employed at a Danish university, hospital or other non-profit research organisation, that will be considered the host institution of the project.

The research institutions of the co-applicants can be located in Denmark or abroad. The co-applicants should contribute significantly to the advancement of the project and should receive part of the funding.

Industry collaboration is possible; however, funding cannot be awarded to industrial partner(s).


A total of up to DKK 120 million is available for grants between DKK 30 million and DKK 60 million for projects lasting 6 years.

Application process

The application process will consist of two stages.

Stage 1: A short expression of interest will be evaluated by an international expert committee. The best applicants will be invited to submit a Stage 2 application.

Stage 2: An application with a detailed project proposal. The main applicant will be invited for interview with the international committee.

Please read ”Information and Guidelines for Applicants” carefully before initiating the application process. Additional and essential information is found in these guidelines.

Click here to read more about the Challenge Programme and to see a list of previous Grant recipients.

Information on the Challenge evaluation committee will be available at a later stage.

About the grants


Up to DKK 30-60 million per grant



Career stage

Research Leaders (Mid-career/Associate Prof.), Research Leaders (Established/Prof.)


For grant inquiries
Camilla Stensgaard Andersson
Grant Manager
[email protected]
Jeremy A. Daniel
Senior Scientific Manager, PhD
[email protected]