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2015 Pilot and Research Award RFA

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The 2015 Pilot and Research Award RFA FAQ is here.

SFARI mission

The mission of the Simons Foundation Autism Research Initiative (SFARI) is to improve the diagnosis and treatment of autism spectrum disorders by funding innovative research of the highest quality and relevance throughout the world.

To this end, we solicit applications for SFARI Awards from individuals who will conduct bold, imaginative, rigorous and relevant research.

Objective of the SFARI Awards

We seek applications from independent investigators who can devote a substantial portion of time to this effort. While we will not require a minimum Principal Investigator (PI) effort, we expect the PI to commit to a level of effort that reflects a leading role in the project. We encourage applications from researchers who are not currently working on autism, but who have expertise that could be brought to bear on this complex disorder. We will also accept collaborative grants involving multiple investigators.

We strongly advise applicants to familiarize themselves with the work that SFARI currently supports, and to think about how their proposals might complement existing grants. See also the Directors’ Column, SFARI’s funding priorities for the upcoming year, for an expanded discussion and details about possible targeted RFAs that SFARI may launch in 2014 and 2015 in addition to the annual RFA. If the description of a project suggests to SFARI scientists that it would be more appropriate to evaluate as an application to one of SFARI’s targeted RFAs, a SFARI scientist will contact you to discuss this possibility. The same application may not be submitted to more than one RFA.

We expect Simons Investigators to share renewable reagents and data developed using Simons Foundation funds with other qualified investigators. Access to the Simons Simplex Collection (SSC) and the Simons Variation in Individuals Project (Simons VIP), resources of rigorously characterized phenotypic data, genetic data and biomaterials, will be available to all approved scientists through SFARI Base. We encourage applicants to use these resources. Policies regarding acquisition of biospecimens are available online.

In addition to the SFARI Awards described below, the SFARI Explorer Award program accepts applications at any time for rapid review and support through a rolling award program. The SFARI Explorer Award program provides timely resources on a one-time basis, not to exceed $60,000, including indirect costs, to support focused experiments highly relevant to our mission. Further information about this program is available online.

Types of applications

The following applications will be considered:

SFARI Pilot Award

Application type for innovative, high-impact proposals requesting support for small-scale projects or early-stage experiments that will build on preliminary data or a prior track record and lead to competitive applications for funding by SFARI or other organizations. Investigators new to the field of autism are encouraged to apply for Pilot Awards. The maximum budget is $125,000, including indirect costs, per year for up to two (2) years. Please note that SSC biospecimen costs are not included in the maximum budget.

SFARI Research Award

Application type for investigators with demonstrated expertise, for proposals requesting support for compelling, high-impact research on an experimental hypothesis for which, in most cases, preliminary data have already been gathered. The foundation will also consider projects focusing on a central hypothesis where success depends on close collaboration between two or more labs. We expect to fund proposals for a maximum of $250,000, including indirect costs, per year for up to three (3) years, but under exceptional circumstances will consider proposals at higher levels. We realize that clinical studies can be costly and will consider clinical and translational proposals with budgets of up to $350,000 per year if justified in the budget. (This grant mechanism is not intended to support large, randomized clinical trials of medications.) We strongly encourage PIs considering such proposals to discuss their proposal and budget with SFARI science staff before submission (please contact [email protected]). Proposals with unusually high budgets are subject to heightened scrutiny. Please note that SSC biospecimen costs are not included in the maximum budget.

SFARI Financial Policy Summary

There is no salary cap for principle investigators (PIs) or other faculty on a Simons Foundation grant; however, the compensation is prorated according to the individual’s percent effort on the grant. There is no minimum percent effort required for PIs or other personnel on any SFARI award type, but it is expected that the PI will commit sufficient effort to this project to provide a leading intellectual and guiding role on the project. Additionally, the PI will be expected to join the collaborative community of SFARI Investigators through participation in conferences, workshops and symposia organized by the foundation. PIs committing less than 15 percent effort to their project should justify their effort level in detail.

SFARI funds may be used only for personnel considered employees of the grantee institution who are eligible for benefits. Funds may not be used for stipend or benefit supplementation unless specifically authorized under the terms of the program from which funds are derived. The Simons Foundation reserves the right to modify budgets when an application has been selected for an award (see SFARI policies).

Indirect costs for all SFARI grant types are limited to 20 percent of the modified total direct costs (see SFARI policies).

Note for investigators applying for renewal of three (3)-year Research Awards

SFARI will prioritize the funding of high-risk and novel experiments, seeking to critically enable studies that have potentially high mission impact. With this in mind, we will prioritize new grant applications and provide only limited funding for renewal of three (3)-year Research Awards. After three (3) years of support, grantees are encouraged to seek continued funding from the NIH and other agencies. SFARI will work with its more senior investigators to identify other funding sources for autism-relevant projects, will continue to welcome their attendance at SFARI-sponsored meetings, workshops and other activities, and will consider limited transitional funding when justified by exceptional progress. SFARI does encourage recipients of SFARI Pilot or Explorer Awards who have achieved success in their initial studies to apply for three (3)-year Research Awards.


All applicants and key collaborators must hold a Ph.D., M.D. or equivalent degree and have a faculty position or the equivalent at a college, university, medical school or other research facility. Applications may be submitted by domestic and foreign nonprofit organizations; public and private institutions, such as colleges, universities, hospitals, laboratories, units of state and local government; and eligible agencies of the federal government. There are no citizenship or country requirements.

Instructions for submission

Applications must be completed electronically and submitted using forms provided at proposalCENTRAL. Please log in as an applicant, go to the “Grant Opportunities” tab, scroll to “Simons Foundation” and click “Apply Now” for the “SFARI Pilot Award” or the “SFARI Research Award” program. For assistance, please call 800-875-2562 or email [email protected].

Deadline and notification schedule

  • 10 October 2014 – Letter of intent due
  • 12 January 2015 – Notification of approval of letters of intent
  • 13 February 2015 – Full proposal due
  • Early June 2015 – Notification of grant awards
  • 1 July 2015, 1 August 2015 and 1 September 2015 – Grant award funding begins

Letter of intent

Prospective applicants must submit a letter of intent (LOI) using the LOI template via proposalCENTRAL. The deadline for LOI submission is 10 October 2014, 5 p.m. Eastern. No extensions will be given. If you have any difficulties, please contact [email protected].

LOIs should include the following (for more details, see the Instructions document, available for download in the Download Templates and Instructions section of proposalCENTRAL):

  • The LOI should be no more than three (3) pages long (including references and figures) and should include:
    • Concise research project description, including specific aims, significance, preliminary data (as applicable), experimental approach, potential impact on autism research and brief timeline.
  • Biosketch of Principal Investigator(s)

Applicants are strongly encouraged not to devote too much space to the introduction; there is no need to provide a scholarly review of autism.

Please note that LOIs exceeding the three (3)-page limit, including references and figures, will not be reviewed.

Successful LOI applicants will be notified by 12 January 2015, and will be invited to submit a full proposal. Only then will applicants have access to the full application on proposalCENTRAL.

Full proposal

The deadline for full proposal submission is 13 February 2015, 5 p.m. Eastern. No extensions will be given. If you have any difficulties, please contact [email protected].

Full proposals should include the following (for more details, see the Instructions document available for download in the Proposal Attachments section of proposalCENTRAL):

  • Narrative, not exceeding six (6) pages for SFARI Pilot Awards and SFARI Research Awards, describing relevant background to the application, significance of the proposed studies, preliminary results, experimental design, specific aims, pitfalls and alternative strategies, novelty, relevance to autism, timeline and milestones.
    • The page limit excludes references and figures. Additional pages may be added to accommodate those items.
  • Progress Report: Investigators currently receiving SFARI funding should include a progress report in two (2) pages or fewer.
  • Biosketch of Principal Investigator(s) and Key Personnel
  • Current and pending support for Principal Investigator(s) and Key Personnel, including abstracts and specific aims.
  • Budget Justification
  • Research environment and resources
  • Renewable reagents and data-sharing plan
  • Applications with multiple PIs from different institutions that would like to be paid separately must submit a signed signature page, budget template and budget justification for each PI.
  • Applications with subcontracts must submit a Subcontract Budget and Budget Justification for each subcontract.

Please note that SFARI Pilot Award and SFARI Research Award proposals exceeding the six (6)-page limit (excluding references and figures), will not be reviewed.

Review of applications

A committee of peers will review applications and make recommendations to the SFARI science staff. The list of previous reviewers can be found online. Applications will be judged on the excellence of science, relevance to autism and appropriateness of budget. SFARI staff make final funding decisions, which are approved by the Simons Foundation Board of Directors.

Proposals selected for SFARI Awards will be announced in early June 2015, and funding will begin on 1 July 2015, 1 August 2015 or 1 September 2015.


Administrative inquiries: [email protected] | 646-654-0066

Scientific inquiries: [email protected] | 646-654-0066

proposalCENTRAL: [email protected] | 800-875-2562