Cornell Research announces SARS-CoV-2 seed grant program

The Office of the Vice Provost for Research has announced a new seed grant mechanism to fund preliminary investigations into medical and biological aspects of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

The Cornell Rapid Research Response SARS-CoV-2 Seed Grant program – funded through the Office of the Vice Provost for Research, the Center for Vertebrate Genomics, the Center for Immunology and the Office of Academic Integration – is now accepting proposals on a rolling basis.

“There is a new threat (COVID-19),” said Emmanuel Giannelis, vice provost for research and the Walter R. Read Professor of Engineering. “Since we are a research and education institution, we are in a perfect position to bring to bear some of the expertise and the ideas that do exist on campus to address this particular concern at this time.”

Though all university faculty members are eligible, funding will be broken into roughly two categories:

  • biology and immunology research that explores direct medical aspects of the disease, such as treatments, vaccines and serological tests; and
  • research that explores the underlying biology of the virus, such as how the virus exploits cell membranes, infects cells and takes over cellular machinery, or why some people develop severe infections and others are mildly infected.

“I really feel the best answers to this disease are going to come from many types of researchers coming at it from different angles, and particularly through the inter-disciplinary collaborations that are Cornell’s major strength,” said Paula Cohen, associate vice provost for life sciences and professor of genetics.

A large portion of the first applications have come from chemists, engineers and biologists whose expertise lies elsewhere but are applying their specialties to the disease, Cohen said. Proposals that include collaborations with faculty and clinicians at Weill Cornell Medicine are also encouraged. Once submitted, faculty will receive a response within two weeks, Cohen said.

Funds will be administered in two phases. Applicants can apply for Phase I support of up to $10,000 for collecting preliminary data. If the data shows promise, or if projects have a large scope, applicants can submit a Phase II application, for up to an additional $20,000.

If faculty whose proposals are accepted require access to their labs on campus, they will need to submit an application to the SARS-CoV-2 Essential Research Approval Committee for review.

One larger aim is to fund a wide range of preliminary projects to prepare some of them to effectively compete for larger external grants.

“I like to think of the seed grants as investments for getting initial results that will support a submission to outside sources including the federal government agencies, foundations and even companies, to sponsor more research in this area,” said Giannelis, who also is vice president for technology transfer, intellectual property and research policy.

“It’s very, very possible that something that comes out of these grants will have a direct impact in the crisis we are trying to solve,” or at least start work that leads to those larger impacts, Giannelis said.

The grant program is intended to be longer term, Cohen said, to encourage researchers to submit proposals over time.

Separate but related seed grant programs are being implemented by the Cornell Center for Social Sciences and by the Atkinson Center for Sustainability. Applications that are suitable for those seed grant programs should proceed; once reviewed, all participating units will collaborate to fund the strongest proposals.