Pilot Award (autism research)

SFARI Mission

The mission of the Simons Foundation Autism Research Initiative (SFARI) is to improve the understanding, diagnosis and treatment of autism spectrum disorders (ASD) by funding innovative research of the highest quality and relevance.

To this end, we solicit applications for SFARI Pilot Awards from individuals who will conduct bold, imaginative, rigorous and relevant research.

Objective of the Pilot Award

The goal of the Pilot Award is to provide early support for exploratory ideas, particularly those with novel hypotheses. Appropriate projects for this mechanism include those considered higher risk but with the potential for transformative results. Projects that represent continuations of ongoing work (whether funded by SFARI or other funders) are not appropriate for this mechanism.

In particular, we encourage applications that propose research to link genetic or other ASD risk factors to molecular, cellular, circuit or behavioral mechanisms and set the stage for development of novel interventions. Please read more about SFARI’s scientific perspectives. We also strongly advise applicants to familiarize themselves with the current projects and other resources that SFARI supports and to think about how their proposals might complement existing efforts.

As we did last year, SFARI will be offering a separate call for Human Cognitive & Behavioral Science projects, which will open in February. Projects involving behavioral and/or cognitive assessments of human participants should be submitted to that request for applications (RFA) rather than the Pilot Award RFA. In addition, SFARI will launch a second iteration of the Genomics of ASD RFA. Projects that are a better fit for this RFA, e.g., those involving preclinical and/or clinical studies of gene-targeting therapeutic approaches, should be submitted when the 2022 Genomics of ASD RFA opens this summer. The Pilot Award RFA is appropriate for exploratory projects that are not otherwise better suited for the Human Cognitive & Behavioral Science or Genomics of ASD RFAs.

To get a better understanding of SFARI’s various funding initiatives in 2022 and whether the Pilot Award may be the best mechanism to support your project, please read our recent blog post, “Updates to SFARI’s 2022 requests for grant applications.” Investigators who are unsure of which of the RFAs planned in 2022 would be the best fit for their project can also contact sciencerfa@simonsfoundation.org for further information.

Level and Duration of Funding

The total budget of a Pilot Award is $300,000 or less, including 20 percent indirect costs, over a period of up to two (2) years. Allowable indirect costs to the primary institution for subcontracts are not included in the $300,000 total budget threshold (see grant policies). We encourage investigators to take advantage of the flexibility in budget and duration, tailoring the scope of the award as appropriate for their specific aims. Funds are expected to be expended as requested during each annual budget period. For projects that propose two years of research, progress will be critically evaluated at the end of year one before support for the remaining year will be approved. When provided with a compelling justification, we are willing to consider larger budgets for the Pilot Award. We strongly encourage investigators considering budgets that exceed our guidelines to consult SFARI before submission (please contact sfarigrants@simonsfoundation.org).


All applicants and key collaborators must hold a Ph.D., M.D. or equivalent degree and have a faculty position or the equivalent at a college, university, medical school or other research facility.

Applications may be submitted by domestic and foreign nonprofit organizations; public and private institutions, such as colleges, universities, hospitals, laboratories, and units of state and local government; and eligible agencies of the federal government. There are no citizenship or country requirements.

Multiple Applications, Resubmissions, and Renewals

Unsuccessful applications submitted to previous SFARI RFAs may be resubmitted to this RFA, if relevant. For all resubmissions, we ask principal investigators (PIs) to submit a statement of changes describing substantive changes to the application since the previous submission. If the previous application was externally reviewed, this document should include point-by-point responses to the reviewers’ critiques. If the revised application does not include substantive changes, it is unlikely that the outcome will change. This is especially true for applications that were not externally reviewed, as this decision is often based on the relevance of the project to SFARI’s mission.

Investigators may submit multiple applications on different topics. However, it is highly unlikely that two awards will be made to the same PI within one RFA cycle.

Given the focus of this RFA on bold, imaginative new ideas, it is unlikely that a renewal of a currently funded project (either from SFARI or elsewhere) will be a good fit for this RFA. We encourage investigators to seek continuation support from outside funding sources. In exceptional cases where progress has been stellar, SFARI may provide continuation funding for projects of particularly high impact via a separate funding mechanism, at the discretion of the science team. Decisions on new proposals from current SFARI Investigators will include the evaluation of progress on previous or ongoing SFARI grants.

Instructions for Submission

Applications must be completed electronically and submitted using forms provided at proposalCENTRAL. Please note that this year there will not be a letter of intent (LOI) stage — all application materials must be submitted by the initial deadline. Please log in as an applicant, go to the “Grant Opportunities” tab, scroll to Simons Foundation and click “Apply Now” for the Simons Foundation Autism Research Initiative – Pilot Award program. For assistance, please call 800-875-2562 or email pcsupport@altum.com.

Details concerning application submission and requirements can be found in our instructions or on proposalCENTRAL. In case of remaining questions, please take a look at our extensive FAQ section.

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