Benkovic Research Initiative

Stephen and Patricia Benkovic Research Initiative 

Inaugural Call for Proposals

The Benkovic Family Foundation is pleased to announce a call for projects to seed and nurture excellence, discovery, and knowledge creation to enable transformative research at the interface of chemistry and life sciences.

Benkovic Research Initiative – Call for Proposals  

Andrew Read:

Hello. I’m Andrew Read, director of the Huck Institutes of the Life Sciences at Penn State.

Phil Bevilacqua:

And I’m Philip Bevilacqua, Head of Penn State’s Chemistry Department in the Eberly College of Science.

Andrew Read:

It gives us great pleasure today to announce the launch of a new funding opportunity for Penn State researchers, focused on truly bold and pioneering work at the interface of chemistry and the life sciences.

Phil Bevilacqua:

This is the inaugural call-for-proposals for a brand new program – the Stephen and Patricia Benkovic Research Initiative.

Andrew Read:

Steve Benkovic is among the most celebrated and respected scientists in Penn State’s history.

Phil Bevilacqua:

And he’s also a living legend in the field of chemistry, which I can attest as a fellow chemist is the noblest of all the sciences. 

Andrew Read:

Well, as an evolutionary biologist, I find that statement debatable Phil. What is absolutely not debatable however, is how grateful we are to the Benkovic Family Foundation for their support in making this new program possible. 

Phil Bevilacqua:

The Benkovics believe – as do we – that breakthroughs in science happen when exceptional scientists have the freedom and resources to partner across disciplines in new and truly innovative ways. That’s why they’re making this investment in the Penn State research community to fund projects that are too risky, too innovative, to attract conventional funding.

Andrew Read:

That’s right, Phil. We can definitely agree there. But don’t take our word for it. Listen to the Benkovics themselves.

[MUSIC]

Stephen Benkovic:

As some of you know, Pat and I have worked together since we were married back in 1961. We share our lab’s accomplishments and today I will speak for both of us. 

You asked why Pat and I undertook this initiative. We both loved doing science. I certainly have. I’m still doing it, well past normal retirement age. The Benkovic Research Initiative is meant to fund risky but highly innovative research that has the potential for breakthrough discovery. I am well aware of the aversion of NIH and NSF study sections to fund such proposals. 

We were fortunate enough to have funds to test ideas that would not have been supported by conventional sources. With such money, I set up a corner of the lab to explore the use of Boron compounds in medicinal chemistry, despite having been told they would be far too toxic. 

The lab’s promising findings led to the founding of Anacor.  In a decade, Anacor had FDA approval for two drugs: Tavaborole and Euchrisa. On for nail fungus and the other for atopic dermatitis.  Anacor was then purchased by Pfizer and with a portion of those returns Pat and I established this initiative. 

Now it’s up to Penn State scientists to seize this opportunity and to do creative and inventive research. I hope they do.

[MUSIC]

Phil Bevilacqua:

Applications are open to all faculty at Penn State. Team proposals are welcome. We are interested in everything from basic science to translational work that is too early to attract venture capital.

Andrew Read:

In Year 1, the intention is to commit up to $1M across 2-4 projects, although exceptions could be made for truly outstanding proposals

Phil Bevilacqua:

Projects are expected to run for 1-3 years in the first instance. We hope to make this an annual call 

Andrew Read:

If you’ve got an idea too novel to attract all the usual funding agencies, we want to hear from you – and we want to hear from you fast.

Phil Bevilacqua:

Full proposals are due November 1st, but we want to hear your ideas well before that. 

Andrew Read:

And do keep in mind that we want really creative stuff here – this is not just a local substitute for an NIH R21 to generate pilot data. 

Phil Bevilacqua:

To read up on all the details – including all submission requirements and a list of more than a dozen examples of potential areas of research that would meet our criteria for support, check out our full RFP at the infoReady link in the description below this video. 

[MUSIC]

Stephen Benkovic:

I want to give other people the opportunity to do things a bit out of the ordinary. To maybe try something innovative and risky. I hope it pans out, but I hope at the same time they have great fun in trying to do it. How’s that? A little better?

Patricia Benkovic:

That was a little better

(Production crew cross-talk and laughter)

This initiative will be administered by the Department of Chemistry in the Eberly College of Science and Penn State’s Huck Institutes of the Life Sciences. 

Applications are open to all faculty at Penn State. Team proposals are welcome. In Year 1, the intention is to commit up to $1M across 2-4 projects, although exceptions could be made for truly outstanding proposals.  

Projects are expected to run for 1-3 years in the first instance. We hope to make this an annual call. 

Projects must be too innovative or too risky to attract conventional funding at this point. High-impact entrepreneurial projects too rudimentary to attract industry or venture support are also welcomed.  

Projects should be first discussed informally with at least one member of the Science Advisory Board (listed here) at least two weeks before submission deadlines. Those informal discussions must be initiated with a 1-3 paragraph project summary.  

After feedback, which may involve several rounds, PIs may be invited to submit a concept paper as described below.  

Invited concept papers should be submitted to infoReady no later than 11:59pm on November 1, 2021.  

All submission details, including a list of all requirements, examples of relevant research areas, and contact information for Science Advisory Board members is available here.  

For more information, please contact Phil Bevilacqua, Head of Chemistry, or Andrew Read, Director of the Huck Institute of Life Sciences:

Philip Bevilacqua

Co-Director, Center for RNA Molecular Biology; Distinguished Professor of Chemistry and of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology

Andrew Read

Director, Huck Institutes of the Life Sciences; Evan Pugh Professor of Biology and Entomology; Eberly Professor of Biotechnology