Penn Center for AIDS Research

Pilot Program Guidelines

The Penn Center for AIDS Research (Penn CFAR) is not currently accepting applications for pilot awards. Please stay tuned for our next funding opportunity!

During a pilot cycle, applications in all areas of HIV/AIDS are acceptable including clinical, basic, behavioral and implementation science research. This year, we encourage projects focused on:

  • HIV & Aging*
  • Implementation Science*
  • Single cell HIV reservoirs and immune analysis*
  • Applying modified RNA technology to HIV research† with joint funding from the Penn Institute for RNA Innovation:

* Pilot projects for investigators without prior R01-level funding in AIDS

† Open to all investigators, including those who have been previously funded (in or out of the AIDS field), as long as the proposal reflects a major new research direction involving applications of modified RNA technology.

Pilot projects are intended to lead to independent HIV/AIDS funding.

All proposals must address high or medium priority areas in the NIH Priorities for HIV/AIDS research.

Pilot Award eligibility criteria include:

  • New investigators without prior R01 level funding from NIH
  • Established investigators who have not previously been funded by the NIH for work in HIV/AIDS.
  • For mRNA awards, because of a co-funding agreement, established investigators with HIV/AIDS funding are also eligible as long as the proposal reflects a major new research direction.

Two types of pilot award are available:

1. General Pilot Research Awards

2. Mentored Research Scholar Awards

The award types are described below.

(*Note that researchers who are not eligible for these awards may be eligible for CFAR microgrants which are awarded on a rolling basis throughout the year:

Amount: Awards are for a maximum of $50,000 per grant*. Applications for smaller awards are encouraged. Applicants should provide justification for the proposed budget. Grants are for one-year and are not renewable. IRB approvals must be in place before funds can be dispersed.

*For exceptional mRNA-based projects, due to provisions of the co-funding agreement, well-justified requests up to $100k will be considered.



General Pilot Awards: Faculty members

Eligible applicants must have a faculty appointment of at least Assistant Professor or its equivalent at a Penn CFAR institution. It is also acceptable to have an appointment by the award date.

For junior faculty applicants, a one-page mentorship plan with a senior faculty member is strongly encouraged; for non-HIV/AIDS investigators, a partnership plan with an established HIV/AIDS investigator is strongly encouraged. Contact the Developmental Core for assistance with identifying partnerships.

Mentored Research Scholar Awards: Young Investigators (Pre-Faculty)

Young investigators at the Instructor, Research Associate, Wistar Staff Scientist, or Wistar Research Assistant Professor level are eligible for mentored awards. Senior fellows will also be considered if they have institutional commitment for a pre-faculty position at the time the award will start. Applicants should be poised to begin an independent research program. If you have any questions about eligibility, please contact Developmental Core Director (Liz Lowenthal, MD MSCE;

Mentored Research Scholar Award applications must include a letter of support from their scientific mentor. For fellows, an institutional letter of support is also required. In addition to these letters, a one-page mentorship plan is required. Guidelines for the Mentorship Plan are available through the CFAR website.

Community-based Organizations & Department of Health: Investigators at partner institutions may be eligible in collaboration with Penn, CHOP, or Wistar faculty. If you have any questions about eligibility, please contact Developmental Core Director (Liz Lowenthal, MD MSCE;

Clinical Studies: The NIH restricts CFAR Pilot Grants from funding NIH-defined “Clinical Trials.” If you are planning to propose a human intervention study (biomedical, behavioral, etc.), please contact Dr. Lowenthal so we can help ensure that your study, if approved, could be supported by available funds.

Use of Fetal Tissue: Research plans using fetal tissue are not permitted in pilot awards.

International Applications: Applications with research activities outside the U.S. must be discussed with and approved by Dr. Robert Gross prior to preparation of the application ( Dr. Gross directs the CFAR International Core and will:

  • Inform you of rules that apply to international pilots and approvals that will be required.
  • Offer International Core services to help support the success of CFAR pilots and other AIDS research.
  • Approve budgets prior to submission.

Successful awardees will be required to submit periodic progress reports and to take part in mentoring activities and feedback seminars. Pilot recipients will be followed for at least 5 years after the funding period ends for NIH reporting.

We strongly encourage all applicants to reach out to the CFAR Developmental Core Directors, who can help to identify resources including potential investigative partners.

Elizabeth Lowenthal, MD MSCE

Director, CFAR Developmental Core

(Clinical/Population Science)


Una O’Doherty, MD PhD

Co-Director, CFAR Developmental Core

(Basic/Translational Science)

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