Penn State funds first round of COVID-19 research proposals

One week after launching a rapid-fire call for proposals, awards are granted to six projects that address the global pandemic, with more to follow

The Huck Institutes of the Life Sciences has issued a request for proposals for projects that will utilize Penn State’s unique research strengths to contribute to the global coronavirus response.

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — On March 3, confronted with the exponentially expanding COVID-19 crisis, Penn State’s research community launched a lightning-quick call for research proposals intended to collect, review, and fund proposals each week throughout the month of March. The initiative was designed to support “research with the potential for significant and rapid impact on human health with respect to the disease (COVID-19) and the causal virus (SARS-CoV-2).”

As of March 11, the first six proposals had received seed funding, with research goals that span vaccine & therapeutics development, transmission studies, point-of-care diagnostic technology, enhanced predictive modeling, health messaging efficacy and Penn State student health.

This first round of funding totaled $470,000 and was awarded to the following Penn State research scientists:

Nikolay Dokholyan, G. Thomas Passanati Professor of Pharmacology at Penn State College of Medicine, seeks to develop a protein-engineered vaccine for COVID-19.

Weihua Guan, Assistant Professor of Electrical Engineering, is designing a novel, ultra-compact, point-of-care COVID-19 testing device.

Suresh Kuchipudi, Clinical Professor of Veterinary and Biomedical Sciences, is working to better understand the prevalence of SARS-CoV-2 in the local region and to develop rapid therapeutic options.

Robert P. Lennon, Associate Professor of Family and Community Medicine at Penn State College of Medicine, is studying ways to reduce misconceptions in messaging about COIVD-19.

Katriona Shea, Professor of Biology, is creating models to address key uncertainties in order to improve COVID-19 management strategies.

Troy Sutton, Assistant Professor of Veterinary and Biomedical Sciences, is evaluating a unique, alternative model of transmission and vaccine-mediated protection against SARS-Co-V-2.

As of this writing, a second round of proposals has been evaluated and awards are currently underway for 11 additional selected projects, bringing total current funding to $1.2 million. The round 2 recipients will be announced publicly within the week. To date, funded proposals span 14 departments across 6 Colleges at Penn State.

"It has been really inspiring, in these challenging times, to see the creative and diverse ways Penn State Researchers are proposing to respond to this epidemic,” said Elizabeth McGraw, director of Penn State’s Center for Infectious Disease Dynamics. As chair of the initiative’s selection committee, McGraw has spent her March weekends ingesting and evaluating the influx of proposals. It’s been a labor of love. “I am proud of the institution's support of the initiative,” she said, “and I’m looking forward to seeing the impact of Penn State's combined research excellence on this complex problem."

This call was spearheaded by Andrew Read, director of the Huck Institutes of the Life Sciences, with additional support from the Materials Research Institute, the Social Sciences Research Institute, the Institute for Computational and Data Science and the Institutes for Energy and the Environment.

Proposals will continue to be considered until 5:00 pm on Friday, March 27, and can be submitted here. Final awards are scheduled to be granted the following week, with recipients to be publicly announced shortly thereafter.

“Time lost means lives lost and the clock is ticking,” said Read. “Penn State has much to contribute here, and we are rising to the occasion.”