About the ASPIRE Awards

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 time-frame, 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.

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 under-explored 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.