Announcement of Requirements and Registration for the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences ASPIRE Design Challenge 1: Integrated Chemistry Database for Translational Innovation in Pain, Opioid Use Disorder and Overdose

Summary of NCATS ASPIRE Design Challenges

The National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), is inviting novel design solutions for A Specialized Platform for Innovative Research Exploration (NCATS ASPIRE) Design Challenges as part of the NCATS ASPIRE Program. The goal of the NCATS ASPIRE Design Challenges is to reward and spur innovative and catalytic approaches toward solving the opioid crisis through development of (1) novel chemistries, (2) data mining and analysis tools and technologies, and (3) biological assays that will revolutionize discovery, development and pre-clinical testing of next-generation, safer and non-addictive analgesics to treat pain, as well as new treatments for opioid use disorder (OUD) and overdose. The first phase of these prize competitions is implemented through a suite of concurrent companion Design Challenges that comprises separate Challenges for each of four areas — chemistry database, electronic laboratory knowledge portal for synthetic chemistry, algorithms and biological assays — and an additional Challenge for a combined solution to at least two Challenge areas. At this stage, innovators are expected to submit designs, not final products or prototypes.

NCATS envisions following these Design Challenges with a follow-on but distinct final Reduction-to-Practice Challenge, which will aim to invoke further scientific and technological development of the model system. Winners of the Design Challenges will be invited to present their designs so that, in the envisioned follow-up Reduction-to-Practice Challenge, an open competition, teams will be able to form multidisciplinary collaborations to advance and integrate the most feasible and promising approaches to the multiple Challenges into a single integrative platform. Innovators will be invited to demonstrate final solutions.

The NCATS ASPIRE Design Challenges are part of NIH’s Helping to End Addiction Long-term (HEAL) initiative to speed scientific solutions to the national opioid public health crisis. The NIH HEAL Initiative will bolster research across NIH to (1) improve treatment for opioid misuse and addiction and (2) enhance pain management. More information about the HEAL Initiative is available at https://www.nih.gov/research-training/medical-research-initiatives/heal-initiative.

NCATS refers to participants in the NCATS ASPIRE Design Challenges as “innovators,” because all solutions will require highly innovative approaches to achieve success. Innovators should clearly state how and why the proposed solution would provide significant advances over currently available tools. Innovators may choose to compete in one or more individual Challenges to address a single area (Challenges 1-4) or propose a combined solution for at least two Challenge areas (Challenge 5).

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Summary of NCATS ASPIRE Design Challenge 1: Integrated Chemistry Database for Translational Innovation in Pain, Opioid Use Disorder and Overdose

integrated database

Challenge 1 aims to address the need for an open-source, controlled-access database that incorporates all currently available chemical, biological and clinical data of known opioid and non-opioid based analgesics, drugs of abuse and drugs used to treat drug abuse. This Challenge requires submission of only a detailed description of the design of a database, not the final working database. In order to serve the purpose of the NCATS ASPIRE Program, the database should be highly disease-specific (focusing only on opioid- and non-opioid-based analgesics, drugs of abuse and drugs used to treat drug abuse) but able to be adapted for scalability and/or use for other disorders. Data and data management systems could be accessed and utilized using an application programming interface (API). The database should offer effective visualizations through a built-in graphical user interface (GUI) representing an analytics dashboard and/or an external porting mechanism to other visualization tools, and it should offer functionality that facilitates data use in training and validating advanced machine learning algorithms or applications developed in Challenge 3.

Evaluation criteria that reviewers will be asked to address are specified below.

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Dates and Deadlines

Solutions must be submitted to Challenge.gov by NOON Eastern Time on May 31, 2019. 

The Challenge begins: December 31, 2018
Submission period: December 31, 2018-May 31, 2019
Judging period: June 17, 2019-August 2, 2019
Winners announced: August 2019

For further information send an email to NCATSASPIREChallenge@mail.nih.gov

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The IC’s Statutory Authority to Conduct the Challenge 

The general purpose of NCATS is to coordinate and develop resources that leverage basic research in support of translational science and to develop partnerships and work cooperatively to foster synergy in ways that do not create duplication, redundancy and competition with industry activities (42 USC 287(a)). In order to fulfill its mission, NCATS supports projects that will transform the translational process so that new treatments and cures for diseases can be delivered to patients faster by understanding the translational process in order to create a basis for more science-driven, predictive and effective intervention development for the prevention and treatment of all diseases. NCATS is also conducting this Challenge under the America Creating Opportunities to Meaningfully Promote Excellence in Technology, Education, and Science (COMPETES) Reauthorization Act of 2010, 15 U.S.C. 3719. In line with these authorities, this Challenge(s) will lead to innovative designs for developing technology to revolutionize discovery, development and pre-clinical testing of new and safer treatments of pain, opioid use disorder (OUD), and overdose; the result will be generalizable tools that will be widely available to fill longstanding gaps that have impeded the marriage of basic and translational sciences.

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Subject of the Challenge Competition

CHALLENGE 1: Integrated Chemistry Database for Translational Innovation in Pain, Opioid Use Disorder and Overdose. The first Challenge aims to reward and spur innovative solutions to the development of an open-source, controlled-access database that will contain extensive chemical, biological and clinical data on currently available pain drugs, opioids and treatments for addiction and overdose. This Challenge requires submission of only a detailed description of the design of a database, not the final working database. The database should include but not be limited to the structures of known analgesics and opioids; information on the corresponding drug targets and, if available, known/predicted mechanisms of action; information on the structure and chemical synthesis; available in vitro and in vivo biological screening data; and any clinical data relevant to the effectiveness, as well as side effects, including risk of addiction etc. In order to serve the purpose of the NCATS ASPIRE Design Challenges, all deposited information (including chemical structures, published chemical synthesis steps and conditions, safety data, etc.) is required to be in a format that is suitable for use in training and validating advanced machine learning applications. The data can be aggregated from available public (assembled from publications and public databases) and/or private (including industry-based collaborators) sources. If using data from non-public sources, innovators must certify that they have proper freedom of operation to utilize and present the data in an open-source format (i.e., for all included datasets, innovators should provide the license and terms under which they are provided for this Challenge). It is expected that the developed database will be utilized by other innovators in other NCATS ASPIRE Design Challenges during the Reduction-to-Practice stage that is envisioned to follow the Design Challenge.

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Concurrent Companion NCATS ASPIRE Design Challenges

NCATS has recently explored the development of A Specialized Platform for Innovative Research Exploration (ASPIRE) to aid in the discovery and development of novel and effective treatments while at the same time making the process faster and more cost-effective. The NCATS ASPIRE Program aims to develop and integrate automated synthetic chemistry, biological screening and artificial intelligence approaches in order to significantly advance our understanding of the relationship between chemical and biological space and enable further access into biologically relevant chemical space. The platform will utilize currently available knowledge to develop innovative algorithms and predict and synthetize novel structures capable of interacting with specific targets; enable small-scale synthesis of the predicted molecules; and incorporate in-line, rapid biological testing of the molecules. Any new data obtained through this process would then be fed back into the system to further improve design, synthesis and biological characteristics of molecules.

Over 25 million people in the United States experience pain every day (2012 National Health Interview Survey data) and need safe, addiction-free treatments to alleviate their suffering. This clinical demand is of tremendous importance given that overprescribing of opioids for managing acute and chronic pain has fueled the current epidemic of opioid use disorder and overdose deaths, and the effectiveness of opioids for long-term pain management is being questioned. Safe, effective and non-addictive drugs (small molecules and biologics) to treat pain, mitigate addiction and reverse overdose are key to addressing the opioid crisis. Given failures and limitations of previous drug development efforts, drugs that recognize novel targets, have novel structures and can be identified in human-based, physiologically relevant in vitro systems are needed. To advance the NCATS ASPIRE Program and reward and spur innovative solutions to the development of new drugs for pain, addiction and overdose, NCATS is issuing this Challenge and concurrent companion Challenges to highly collaborative innovators interested in designing novel approaches that would lead to efficacious and non-addictive pain treatments and/or novel treatments for addiction and overdose.

The ultimate goal of the NCATS ASPIRE Program is development of a platform that a wide spectrum of scientists can use to advance their translational science relevant to development and pre-clinical testing of new and safer treatments of pain, opioid use disorder (OUD) and overdose. Furthermore, it is essential that the approaches described and proposed here are applicable to any translational problem.

Challenge 2: Electronic Synthetic Chemistry Portal for Translational Innovation in Pain, Opioid Use Disorder and Overdose rewards and spurs innovative solutions to the design of a next-generation open-source electronic lab notebook (eLN) that collects, organizes and analyzes data relevant to the chemical synthesis and analyses of known opioid- and non-opioid-based analgesics, drugs of abuse and molecules used to treat drug abuse into an electronic laboratory knowledge portal for synthetic chemistry (electronic synthetic chemistry portal; eSCP).

Challenge 3: Predictive Algorithms for Translational Innovation in Pain, Opioid Use Disorder and Overdose rewards and spurs innovative solutions to the design of open source, advanced machine learning algorithms that would facilitate the discovery of novel, efficacious and non-addictive analgesics and/or treatments for drug abuse by utilizing the data collected in open source databases (Challenge area 1), eSCPs (Challenge area 2) and biological assays (Challenge area 4).

Challenge 4: Biological Assays for Translational Innovation in Pain, Opioid Use Disorder and Overdose rewards and spurs innovative solutions to the design of novel, physiologically relevant biological assays that accurately replicate the safety profile and effectiveness of existing drugs to treat addiction and/or overdose and that can be reliably used in predictive risk assessments of new analgesics or drugs to treat addiction and/or overdose and/or be able to anticipate the degree of addictiveness of an analgesic prior to clinical testing.

Challenge 5: Integrated Solution for Translational Innovation in Pain, Opioid Use Disorder and Overdose rewards and spurs the design of innovative, comprehensive solutions to the opioid crisis through innovative approaches that integrate solutions to at least two Challenge areas (Challenges 1-4: Integrated Chemistry Database, Electronic Synthetic Chemistry Portal, Predictive Algorithms and Biological Assays, respectively) into a single platform.

Note: Each component of Challenge 5 (above) is also available as an individual Challenge at Challenge.gov.

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Registration Process for Innovators

Innovators may access the registration and submission platform in one of the following ways:

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The Prize

Amount of the Prize; Award-Approving Official. 

The total prize purse is $500,000. Up to five (5) winners will be selected. NIH reserves the right to cancel, suspend and/or modify this Challenge at any time through amendment to this notice. In addition, NIH reserves the right to not award any prizes if no solutions are deemed worthy. The Award Approving Official will be Christopher P. Austin, M.D., Director of the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS).

Payment of the Prize. Prizes awarded under this competition will be paid by electronic funds transfer and may be subject to federal income taxes. HHS/NIH will comply with the Internal Revenue Service withholding and reporting requirements, where applicable.

Matching Requirement. A for-profit private entity solver (innovator) receiving a prize under this Challenge must match funds or provide documented in-kind contributions at a rate of not less than 50% of the total federally awarded amount, as stipulated by Public Law 115-141, the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2018. Such a winner(s) will be required to demonstrate that matching funds and/or in-kind contributions were committed to achieve the winning solution. Such a winner(s) must identify the source and amount of funds used to meet the matching requirement or describe how the value for in-kind contributions was determined.

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Evaluation and Winner Selection

Basis upon Which Winners Will Be Selected. A panel of federal and non-federal reviewers, with expertise directly relevant to the Challenge, will evaluate the solutions based on feasibility and ability to achieve the criteria listed below. The solutions and evaluation statements from the technical panel will then be reviewed by federal employees serving as judges, who will select the Challenge winners, subject to the final decision by the Award Approving Official. The NCATS will provide feedback from the technical experts and judges to the winners and non-winners on their respective submissions.

The points assigned to each set of evaluation criteria are guidelines from NCATS to suggest which scientific milestones are of emphasis and interest to the Center. All winners are highly encouraged to participate in future NCATS ASPIRE Reduction-to-Practice Challenges that NCATS is planning. 

Only complete submissions will be reviewed.

Submission Requirements and Template

Instructions for submission: Please format the proposal using the Submission Template and submit it to Challenge.gov as a PDF. Brief instructions on the submission process can be found below. Detailed instructions are provided in the submission template.

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Basis upon Which Submissions Will Be Evaluated

CHALLENGE 1: Integrated Chemistry Database for Translational Innovation in Pain, Opioid Use Disorder and Overdose. The first Challenge rewards and spurs solutions to the development of an open-source, controlled-access database that will contain extensive chemical, biological and clinical data on currently available pain drugs, opioids and treatments for addiction and overdose. The database should include but is not limited to the structures of known analgesics and opioids; information on the corresponding drug targets and, if available, known/predicted mechanisms of action; information on the structure and chemical synthesis; available in vitro and in vivo biological screening data; and any clinical data relevant to the effectiveness, as well as side effects, including risk of addiction etc. In order to serve its purpose of the NCATS ASPIRE Design Challenges, all deposited information (including chemical structures, published chemical synthesis steps and conditions, safety data, etc.) is required to be in a format that is suitable for use in training and validating advanced machine learning applications. The data can be aggregated from available public (assembled from publications and public databases) and/or private (including industry-based collaborators) sources. If using data from non-public sources, innovators must provide the license and terms under which such data are provided for this Challenge. Pursuant to Rule 15 of the Challenge, by participating in this Challenge, each individual (whether participating singly or in a group) assures NCATS that any data used for the purpose of submitting an entry for this Challenge competition were obtained legally through authorized access to such data. It is expected that the developed database will be utilized by other innovators in other NCATS ASPIRE Design Challenges during the Reduction-to-Practice stage that is envisioned to follow the Design Challenge.

Judging criteria:

Evaluation Criterion 1: Impact and Innovation (20 points)

  • What are major strengths and weaknesses of the solution proposed?
  • Given that innovation is considered using a groundbreaking or paradigm-shifting approach or using existing approaches in an innovative way, to what degree is the proposed design innovative, creative and original?
  • How feasible is the proposed approach, and what is the likelihood of the approach to succeed?
  • Has the innovator or team of innovators demonstrated that appropriate expertise was utilized during development of the design?
  • To what extent does the proposed solution provide the required information necessary for development of novel treatments and therapies for pain, drug addiction and/or overdose?
  • Did the team identify potential roadblocks and suggest additional expertise that would be utilized to facilitate resolution of roadblocks to implementation?

Evaluation Criterion 2: Data Complexity, Accuracy, and Interconnectivity (20 points)

  • How well does the database design integrate multiple data sources?
  • Are all the data annotated by source/reference?
  • How well is structural and functional variability/complexity of currently available pain drugs, opioids and treatments for addiction and overdose represented in the database?
  • Do the collected data meet the FAIR requirements (findable, accessible, interoperable and reusable: https://www.nature.com/articles/sdata201618)?
  • How well have the innovators defined standards for data types, format, quality, curation, annotation and common data elements so that data sets are mineable and comparable?
  • Is adequate online back-end infrastructure such as storage and cloud computing capability available?
  • To what extent have the innovators developed a framework for enabling meaningful comparisons across heterogeneous data sets, including individual and population comparisons at the intra- and interspecies levels?
  • Have the innovators designed tools to harmonize disparate data formats?

Evaluation Criterion 3: Data Accessibility (10 points)

  • Will all study materials, data and procedures be made broadly available and readily accessible to the research community (e.g., are plans for transitioning the database to be publicly accessible included in the solution)?
  • Have the innovators designed a web portal front-end or complete API that enables clear and easy management and retrieval of data and tools and is accessible to the general scientific community across a variety of platforms?
  • How well is the database design documented with a broad extensible format that allows for broader contextual relationships?
  • Have the innovators proposed appropriate tools for batch data retrieval to allow independent computation of the data on the user end?
  • How well have the innovators designed strategies for data curation and updates (e.g., how will new data be incorporated)?
  • Does the solution adequately address how it will remain compliant with data privacy regulations, specifically those that are obtained from human subjects?

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