Announcing 2024 Colton Center of Excellence RFA

Request for Applications (RFA)

Colton Center of Autoimmunity Center of Excellence


The Colton Center for Autoimmunity, in collaboration with the Penn community, has a unique opportunity to transform the landscape of autoimmune research and redefine our understanding, treatment, and management of autoimmune diseases. Resources from the Penn Colton Center have been allocated to establish another Center of Excellence (COE). This COE will serve as a dynamic hub of innovation, fostering interdisciplinary collaboration and cutting-edge research aimed at accelerating the translation of scientific discoveries into tangible benefits for patients. Through the establishment of this COE, we aim to catalyze the assembly of collaborative teams dedicated to pushing the boundaries of research in autoimmune diseases. By leveraging the diverse expertise and resources available within the Penn community, we will unlock new insights into the underlying mechanisms of autoimmune diseases and develop innovative approaches for diagnosis, treatment, and prevention.

This current RFA is soliciting applications for a COE focusing on one of the following topics:

Topic #1: RNA and lipid nanoparticle therapeutics for autoimmunity

Topic #2: High-throughput therapy discovery and/or treatment opportunities in autoimmunity

Topic #3: Aging, Stress, and autoimmunity

The proposed Center of Excellence must consist of a highly integrated and interdisciplinary program able to move novel scientific discoveries into the clinic, and with the potential for an important impact on patient care and outcomes.

Applications are strongly encouraged to include the following features:

  • An integrated team of research scientists and clinicians/clinical investigators
  • Compelling co-leadership for the proposed Center of Excellence
  • Inclusion of a wide breadth of scientific disciplines, including basic and clinical science
  • Cross-departmental and/or cross-school collaborations
  • Integration of, or a plan to integrate approaches using artificial intelligence
  • Innovative and new directions, rather than existing approaches

Submission Guidelines

Phase I: Submission of Letters of Intent

The initial stage of the application process involves submitting a comprehensive Letter of Intent, which is limited to a single page, (no tables or figures).  This document should address the proposal's objectives, potential clinical impact, research approach, team roles and expertise, sustainability, and expected outcomes.

Letter of Intent is due by July 19, 2024.

Broad Mission and Specific Objectives
Briefly describe the translational vision (e.g., addressing a key question in one of the topics outlined in the section above or proposing a key infrastructural element that catalyzes translational research) for the Center of Excellence, and the specific goals and objectives. Highlight the pioneering approaches that have the potential to transform diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of autoimmune diseases. Specify how this represents a novel direction, rather than duplicating the applicants’ past or ongoing research.

Clinical Impact
Briefly describe how the formation of the Center of Excellence will accelerate advances in autoimmune research that have the potential to change the standard care for autoimmune diseases in the future. Clarify how the interdisciplinary team approach will facilitate realizing this potential.

List the aims and the general research strategies for a set of highly integrated scientific projects that address the overarching mission of the Center of Excellence. Specify how Immune Health or other cores/resources on campus will be utilized. If gaps in existing facilities are a perceived challenge to executing the proposed research, applicants are encouraged to describe ways that COE funding could optimize facility services and operations. Applications that focus on building research infrastructure to facilitate research to achieve a defined mission will also be considered.  Articulate how data science and/or artificial intelligence plays a role or will be developed for the COE.  

Organization and Leadership
Describe and/or illustrate the organizational framework for the proposed COE. Include a brief description of mechanisms that will be used to bridge discoveries from basic to clinical and population science, as well as to move discoveries from research to autoimmune disease care.  Provide evidence for the qualities and the capability of the Principal Investigator(s) to lead this effort and to produce the expected results. Specify current strengths of the team and areas of opportunities for investment to build an outstanding COE.

It is recognized that changes in clinical care and outcomes may require long-term investment beyond the initial three-year funding period. Thus, the specific plan to promote the sustainability of the COE beyond the initial three-year funding period is a critical component of the application and review (e.g., SPORE grants, P01s, increased clinical revenues, philanthropy, etc.).

Expected Outcomes
Provide a list of five or more specific metrics that are relevant to your Center of Excellence, with a short-term (e.g., three-year) and long-term (10-year) timeline. Scientific and clinical metrics should be emphasized. Potential metrics may relate to novel discoveries based on observational or experimental research, development of new prevention or treatment modalities, advancing innovative clinical trials, increases in clinical volume, increases in philanthropic gifts, and/or improvements in clinical outcomes or increases in clinical visits.

Biographical Sketches (does not count toward page limit)
NIH-style biographical sketches should be included for the PIs and key faculty members of the COE.

Budgets are not requested as part of the Letter of Intent. Appendices are not permitted as part of the Letter of Intent.

Review Process

Phase I: Review of Letters of Intent
The initial scientific review process will be completed in September 2024 by an internal review committee. Review Criteria will include:

  1. Impact: What is the likelihood that the proposed program of research will translate discoveries to clinical practice and have a transformative impact on the science and treatment of autoimmune diseases at Penn Medicine?
  2. Innovation: Is the proposed COE creative and original? If successful, will the work in this COE produce dramatic shifts in research and clinical practice by using novel concepts, methodologies, and/or interventions?
  3. Investigative Team: Do the proposed COE PIs have a strong track record of leadership of interdisciplinary and translational science? Does the team have sufficient interdisciplinary breadth and depth to carry out the proposed research?
  4. Approach: Are the general strategies and translational approaches sufficiently rigorous to ensure generation of important data? Are metrics of success and plans for sustainability presented and reasonable?

Phase II: Further Development of CE Finalists’ Proposals
Based upon the initial review (above), a subset of applicants will be selected as finalists in early September 2024. Selected finalists will receive further instructions regarding additional criteria, including budgetary specifics, metrics, milestones, and potential refinements to scientific strategies.  In November 2024, the COE finalist proposals will be reviewed by Colton Executive Leadership, including the Colton External Advisory Board. Final funding decisions are anticipated by December 2024.

It is anticipated that one Center of Excellence will be funded during this cycle for a three-year term. Each year, the recipient(s) may request funding of up to $500,000 to support their research activities, totaling $1.5 million dollars over three years. No indirect (F&A) costs will be assigned to these funds.

Support for Proposals Not Selected in the Current Round Funding
To the extent possible, the Penn Colton Center wishes to sustain the momentum of CE groups created during the application process. Thus, compelling components of unfunded applications may be supported with seed funds to facilitate further development of future CEs.

Proposal Selected in the Current Round Funding
The funded Center of Excellence will be expected to submit progress reports every 6 months which will be evaluated by Colton Center leadership and possibly by the Colton External Advisory Board. Metrics of success and progress toward achieving scientific goals will be considered. Continuation of funding will depend on progress.

Submission Instructions  
Please direct your questions, and email your Letters of Intent (in Word or PDF), to:

Kaitlyn Piazza
Director for Business Administration and Operations
Colton Center for Autoimmunity                                                                             

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