Program Overview

The Mark Foundation for Cancer Research ASPIRE Awards (Accelerating Scientific Platforms and Innovative REsearch) are designed to enable innovative approaches to solving high-impact problems in cancer research that tend to fall outside the scope of other funding opportunities. These awards will be used to support high-risk, high-reward projects with research plans designed to answer key feasibility and proof-of-concept questions in an accelerated timeframe, typically one year. Projects that successfully demonstrate feasibility may be selected to apply for additional funding in a second phase to further develop their innovative concepts and increase the speed to impact for cancer patients.


• Applications will be accepted from both U.S. and non-U.S. entities, including both not-for-profit institutions and for-profit organizations.
• Principal Investigators (PIs) must be independent researchers leading laboratory teams in academic or not-for-profit institutions, or senior scientific leaders at a director level or above in a for-profit organization.
• Projects may be collaborative and may include up to two additional Co-Investigators; post-doctoral or clinical fellows who have independently contributed to the formulation of the proposal, and who will conduct a significant portion of the research, are eligible to apply as Co-Investigators.
• The Mark Foundation for Cancer Research does not discriminate based on race, color, religion, national origin, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, age, disability or any other legally protected characteristics.

Terms of Award

• Applicants may request funding to support a total budget between $50,000 and $500,000 for a period of up to 18 months (up 24 months for Clinical Research awards).
• The budget and duration requested for the grant must match a realistic estimate of the cost and timeline for the proposed work; most awards will be for periods of 12 months or less for budgets under $250,000, and the number of grants awarded that exceed those levels will be limited.
• The budget limit includes both direct and indirect costs, with indirect costs not to exceed 10% of the total grant.

Award Categories

Basic Research

• Awards will be given to projects that have the potential to substantially accelerate understanding of cancer disease mechanisms and pathophysiology, and that may lead to the development of novel prevention and treatment strategies.
• Some example areas of interest include, but are not limited to:

o Dynamic interplay of cancer with the microbiome, immune system, metabolism, and other aspects of whole body physiology
o Interrogations of cellular signaling and molecular pathology using a systems biology approach
o Utilization of validated model systems to test new hypotheses and ask unique questions that will lead to significant advances in underexplored areas of cancer biology

Therapeutic Discovery and Translational Science

• Awards will be given to enable novel concepts in cancer drug discovery, preclinical development, and translational science. Feasibility and proof-of-concept research plans must focus on the key aspects that drive risk in moving those concepts forward.
• Some example areas of interest include, but are not limited to:

o Target validation studies in state-of-the-art patient-derived preclinical models
o Development of novel targeting approaches and new therapeutic modalities
o Chemical biology approaches to target identification, including tool generation, phenotypic screening, chemogenomics, and chemoproteomics
o Candidate discovery, including assay development, screening, and medicinal chemistry
o Preclinical development, including mechanism of action (MoA) determination, pharmacokinetics/pharmacodynamics (PK/PD), toxicology, and formulation

Innovative Technologies

• Awards will be given for research projects aimed at developing innovative technology solutions that are integrated with leading-edge concepts in cancer biology.
• Some example areas of interest include, but are not limited to:

o Ultra-sensitive techniques for biomarker detection
o Non-standard platforms for target, biomarker, and/or therapeutic modality discovery and validation
o Machine learning/AI-based algorithms for predictive analytics, complex data integration, and advanced visualizations that provide insights that will improve patient outcomes
o Development of novel or improved model systems that address urgent questions or fill technology gaps, for example, immunocompetent in vivo models, patient-derived surrogate tumor models including organoids and xenografts, and models accurately reflecting the tumor microenvironment

Clinical Research

• Awards will be given for biomarker-rich exploratory, early-stage clinical trials and correlative studies that address fundamental questions related to the interplay of cancer therapy, intervention and/or companion diagnostics and biology.
• Some example areas of interest include, but are not limited to:

o Proof-of-concept trials evaluating the utility of patient-specific surrogate tumor models in cancer precision medicine
o Feasibility of new predictive biomarkers/biomarker technologies, including molecular imaging, for a given therapeutic approach
o Validation of the MoA and/or exploration of PK/PD relationships of a novel therapeutic developed or refined in the laboratory of the PI or Co-Investigator

• Additional considerations:

o No more the 25% of the total budget may be used to defray clinical trial costs such as research nurses, data management, IRB fees, and database development.
o Funds will not be released until the protocol has IRB approval.
o Project durations for clinical studies may be up to 24 months.

How to Apply

• Register and log in through The Mark Foundation’s online portal.
• Enter required information for PI (and Co-Investigators, if applicable).
• Choose one of four (4) ASPIRE award categories: Basic Research, Therapeutic Discovery and Translational Science, Innovative Technologies, or Clinical Research (see descriptions above).
• Upload Project Concept Letter and investigator biosketches (NIH Biosketch or CV).

o Materials must be submitted as PDF files; submissions with narrow margins (< 0.5 inches), small font sizes (< 10 point), or poor scanning quality will not be reviewed.
o Project Concept Letters must be no more than 2 pages (~750 words), including any references, figures, or tables, and must contain the following information:

 Project title
 Brief abstract (less than 200 words)
 Problem statement describing unmet need and opportunity to enable substantial and differentiated impact for cancer research and cancer patients
 Synopsis of research plan, including key feasibility or proof-of-concept question(s) to be answered, methods overview, and list of specific aims
 Statement of innovation
 Requested budget and project duration (see terms above)

• All required information and files must be submitted via our online portal no later than 5 PM Eastern Time on the key dates listed below for each award cycle.
• Full applications will be accepted by invitation only, after review of the Project Concept Letter; additional guidelines will be provided to invited applicants.

Key Dates

Fall 2018 ASPIRE Award cycle:

• Project Concept Letters due: Tuesday, July 31
• Applications invited: Week of August 13
• Applications due: Monday, September 24
• Awardees notified: Week of November 12

Winter 2019 ASPIRE Award cycle:

• Project Concept Letters due: Monday, January 7 (may be submitted beginning Dec. 2018)
• Applications invited: Week of January 14
• Applications due: Monday, February 18
• Awardees notified: Week of April 8

Spring/Summer 2019 ASPIRE Award cycle:

• Dates To Be Announced