Frequently Asked Questions About NOT-TR-17-023


Data Types/Sources, Data Sharing and Public Access


Investigative Team and Collaboration


What is the intent of the FY 2017 initiative?

In January 2017, NCATS decided to explore the potential use of a blackboard architecture consisting of three types of components: (1) a blackboard — a tool that contains data relevant to the current state of the problem and its solutions; (2) knowledge sources — independent agents that encode (domain) knowledge needed to solve the problem incrementally; and (3) a reasoning tool — an independent module that dynamically controls knowledge source invocations at runtime.

Current awards focus on novel integrations of data that advance translational research and on making knowledge sources interoperable with the blackboard. To complement this work and complete our feasibility assessment of the proposed architecture, NCATS is seeking applicants to submit innovative ideas on how to develop a reasoning tool that can direct the collection of data and models needed to address translational research questions. This complements ongoing program activities that explore not just novel integrations of existing biomedical data but also new analytic capabilities that are powered by such data.

Successful applicants will contribute their expertise and resources and also must be willing to collaborate to revolutionize translational science and propel new discoveries and best practices for practitioners across the translational spectrum, from biologists to chemists to computer scientists and from scientists doing target validation to clinicians seeing patients.

Why isn’t the funding opportunity announcement (FOA) posted publicly?

Under other transaction authority (OTA), NCATS can make research awards that are not grants, contracts or cooperative agreements. To demonstrate that they have the requisite skills to develop a reasoning tool, prospective applicants must complete a challenge to initiate the application process. The challenge tasks themselves are designed to provide important background and insight into the task of building a biomedical reasoning tool prototype for this program and thereby improve the quality of proposals received. The challenge is a multilevel computational exercise. The challenge may be completed by an individual or by the team that will be part of the proposal, provided that the team is using a common login. Upon successful completion of each level, additional sections of the funding opportunity will be revealed. Applicants who cannot complete the challenge will not be given access to all the instructions necessary for submitting the required concept letter. After the submission period for the concept letter has closed, the entire FOA will be made available on the NCATS website.

Will NCATS provide public feedback on an application?

NCATS does not provide public feedback on applications.

Are program staff available to discuss scientific or technical questions by phone?

Program staff are not available for discussions by phone. Questions may be submitted to

Does the concept letter need to be sent by the university business office?

Even if a full application will be submitted by a university or organization, the concept letter may be emailed by the applicant or the team leader for the project.

Should the summary vision statement describe the reasoning tool to be built during the 10-month project period or detail what would be possible over a longer period?

The summary vision statement should describe the applicant’s vision for the reasoning tool that could be developed over a longer period, based on what would be accomplished during the 10-month project period.

What information should be included in the abbreviated biosketch, and is there an example?

There is no example of an abbreviated biosketch. Include a CV or abbreviated NIH biosketch that is no more than one page for each of the key personnel who have committed to participating in the project if it is awarded. In the context of the program, it is especially important to highlight contributions of personnel to existing open source projects, standards, and initiatives, as well as evidence of ability to work collaboratively.

Does a bibliography or list of references for the project plan section need to fit within the page limit?

A bibliography, reference list or citation list relevant to the proposal may be provided outside of the page limit of the project plan section. Applicants should provide only citations to publications, not the full articles.

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Data Types/Sources, Data Sharing and Public Access

Is it realistic to expect that the Translator will work only with comprehensive data?

Many of the datasets within data types will be incomplete, and part of the feasibility assessment is to entertain different approaches to address this fact. This funding opportunity will help to assess the technical feasibility and architectural design for developing the Translator; the actual development of a comprehensive system is not part of this funding opportunity.

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Why is NCATS using a challenge to determine eligibility?

The qualifying challenge helps NCATS assess applicants’ ability to produce reasoning tool software within the aggressive timeline of the program. The challenge is also an engaging way to provide background about the program and introduce key technical concepts about the Translator that applicants will need to address in their concept letters.

If an applicant works closely with other computational scientists and wants to submit a joint application, how can they do that to work on the challenge together?

The unique link provided in the registration email can be shared with team members, any of whom can help complete each part of the challenge. Submission of a concept letter requires the applicant to provide the email address used during registration, to confirm that the applicant completed the qualifying challenge.

If an applicant has the right skills to build a reasoning tool but doesn’t have time to work on the challenge, how can he/she apply?

This funding opportunity requires an applicant to access the FOA through the qualifying challenge.

Can an applicant still apply if he/she doesn’t have the required registrations (DUNS and SAM) and will not have them in time to submit the application?

Yes, such individuals may still apply; however, to receive an award, these registrations must be in place by November 27, 2017. To ensure timely award processing, applicants are strongly encouraged to begin the registration process for a Dun and Bradstreet (D&B) Data Universal Numbering System (DUNS) number and to register in the System for Award Management (SAM) at the time of or before concept letter submission. The registration process can take six weeks or more. An applicant’s eligibility to receive an award may be jeopardized if the process is not completed on time.

Does an applicant need to be associated with an organization, company or academic institution?

Any U.S. or foreign entity or individual U.S. citizen is eligible to receive an award. Applicants who have not previously done business with the federal government may be subject to additional oversight and an extended vetting process, in addition to being required to register with DUNS and SAM.

Are applications from foreign institutions allowed?

Non-domestic (non-U.S.) entities (foreign institutions) are eligible to apply. However, foreign individuals not affiliated with a U.S. or foreign entity are not eligible to receive an award.

If an applicant is partnering with an organization, not just an individual, how does he/she address this in the application?

A description of the contribution from the organization should be included in both the project and collaboration plans. In addition, a letter of support from a leader of the organization that describes its contribution to the project must be provided.

Are parallel, coordinated proposals or one larger, consolidated proposal preferred?

Applicants should propose whatever makes the most scientific sense to be responsive to the funding opportunity and to best address the specified goals of the program. Please refer to the FOA to review the evaluation criteria.

Are other federal government agencies, such as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), eligible to receive funding under this initiative?

Eligible federal government agencies, including the FDA, may apply. Applicants from federal agencies are responsible for adhering to any limitations set by their own agencies on applying for and receiving funding support from NIH. There also may be additional limitations and restrictions on the types of costs that are allowable. For example, NIH cannot provide funding support for federal employees’ salaries.

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Investigative Team and Collaboration

Does an applicant need to identify all members of the proposed team? Can an applicant budget for additional members?

It is important to provide evidence of the proposed team’s ability to work collaboratively. Competitive applications are expected to identify most key team members and to include a single-page CV or NIH biosketch for each member. If a key team member has not been identified, the qualifications of the individual needed should be described.

Are applications with multiple principal investigators (PIs) allowed?

Yes. More than one individual may be named as PIs on a single application.

The previous Translator FOA allowed only one application per institution. For this FOA, will NCATS accept only one concept letter per institution?

This FOA does not have a limit on the number of concept letters allowed from a single institution, provided each letter is scientifically distinct.

Does a “lead institution” need to be identified in the concept letter?

If invited to submit a full application, and if the application would be submitted by an institution or organization, then yes, the lead organization must be identified.

Is there any preference for how partnering organizations or institutions work together?

There is no NIH preference for how partners work together or who serves as the lead organization.

Can applicants name a PI at each partnering institution?

Applicants may use the multi-PI model; however, the designated contact PI must be affiliated with the applicant institution or organization.

Should applicants name multiple PIs on a single application or list co-PIs as key personnel?

This decision should be based on the science. Applicants have the option to use a multi-PI model as well as designating key scientific contributors. In the multi-PI model, the contact PI listed must be affiliated with the applicant institution.

Are there restrictions on an individual investigator participating in multiple applications through sub-awards?

There are no restrictions on an individual investigator participating in more than one application.

What is the nature and extent of the collaboration that is requested among the awardees?

NCATS expects that this project will be intensely collaborative among new and existing research partners and NIH staff and that the unrestricted exchange of source code and software tools written as part of this program will be essential to a successful outcome. NCATS anticipates that each awardee will contribute at least intellectually to all aspects of the feasibility assessment and architecture design challenges.

Are current Translator awardees and investigators eligible to apply?

Yes; however, because NCATS staff will not provide any information to existing awardees that is not available in the public domain, existing awardees will not have an advantage over new applicants.

Can an investigator be multi-PI (MPI) on multiple applications?

Investigators may be MPI on multiple applications; however, the designated contact PI must be affiliated with the applicant organization.

Would it be useful to demonstrate a connection to related NIH initiatives?

Applicants should leverage all resources that strengthen their application.

Should co-investigators include letters of support for the concept letter?

No letters of support should be submitted for the concept letter.

We submitted a concept letter, but we have not heard anything about the outcome of the review. Have the successful groups been notified?

The notification letters have been sent. If you did not receive a notification email from NCATS, the application is not progressing to Step 3 of the application process.