Innovative Grants

The CAPS HIV/AIDS Innovative Pilot Awards Program supports pilot studies for innovative HIV/AIDS prevention and policy research, prioritizing the funding of projects that will lead to future NIH R01 grant proposals or other substantive extramural funding. CAPS and the Innovative Grants Program are supported by a grant from the United States National Institute of Mental Health (P30 MH062246).

Areas of Research Supported

The HIV/AIDS Innovative Pilot Awards Program welcomes applications in two areas by providing (1) New Investigator Awards and (2) New Research Directions Awards. New Investigator Awards support the work of scientists who have not previously been awarded NIH R01 funding or otherwise received extramural grant funding equivalent to R01s in terms of size and scope. New Investigator Awards are given to foster the research careers of early-career scientists by providing seed money to collect preliminary data in support of independent extramural funding applications. Because mentorship is important to developing a scientific career, principal investigators (PIs) of New Investigator Awards are asked to identify a mentor and describe the mentor’s role in guiding the research. New Research Direction Awards support the work of established investigators who wish to pursue research topics that represent, for them, a substantial departure from their prior work. New Research Direction Awards are intended to provide seed money to collect preliminary data that will support future extramural grant applications in the new area of study. Funding decisions are based on merit, responsiveness to the call for proposals, feasibility of completing the project in a timely manner, and availability of funds. The maximum award amount per project is $20,000. Proposed research projects should be completed within one year of receipt of funding. The CAPS Community Advisory Board recommends that the following guidelines be considered in the selection of projects:

  • The proposed study should be innovative rather than something already well studied.
  • The proposed study should involve the target population in the formation of the protocol.
  • The application should explain how the proposed study fits into the larger body of published knowledge in the area.
  • The “So what?” question should be addressed; that is, the application should highlight the practical implications of the proposed project. The proposal should answer these questions: “To what will this study lead?” “Why is the proposed project a crucial step?” and “What does the study (or line of research) add to the HIV research puzzle?”


The primary purpose of the CAPS Innovative Grants Program is to foster innovative HIV prevention science and the research careers of promising new HIV prevention investigators. A Principal Investigator (PI) on an Innovative Grant must meet these requirements:

  1. Hold a doctoral degree (PhD, MD, etc.) or equivalent educational credential
  2. Have a UCSF faculty appointment or Hold a UCSF academic staff position (e.g., postdoctoral scholar, research specialist, principal statistician) and be working toward independent funding for promotion to the faculty
  3. Have a UCSF home accounting department


Budgets may not exceed $40,000. Because this is an internal UCSF grant, there are no indirect costs. Award money should be spent within one year of receipt of funding. Because of the small award amount and limited project time, subcontracts are only permitted with special permission. Supplies and Expenses: Laboratory supplies, office supplies, and other necessary and reasonable expenses are allowed and must be fully justified in the application. Equipment: Equipment is defined as non-expendable, tangible personal property that has an acquisition cost of $1,500 or more, is freestanding, and has a normal life expectancy of two years or more. Only equipment requested and fully justified in the application and approved in the award budget may be purchased with these funds. Effort: Most PIs, mentors, and co-investigators cannot “donate” time to a project. They must invest some effort on the project, even if only 1%. An exception can be made if a faculty member has a discretionary source of salary that permits the donation of effort. (Funds from grants and contracts are rarely discretionary.) A second exception can be made for individuals who are supported by NIH training awards (e.g., postdoctoral training grants and early-career K awards). Individuals on these grants cannot be paid for their effort, as stipulated by the rules of their training award.

CHR/IRB Approvals

All studies that involve human participants require approval by the UCSF Committee on Human Research (CHR). However, approval is not a prerequisite for submission. If a project is selected for funding, proof of CHR approval must be supplied before funds can be released. If CHR approval is not obtained within 90 days of award notice, the offer of funding may be withdrawn. Per requirements of the National Institute of Mental Health, which supports CAPS and the Innovative Grants Program, projects conducted in international locations must also obtain approval from an appropriate foreign Institutional Review Board and secure U.S. State Department clearance prior to commencing research activities in the foreign location. Details on the process for securing State Department clearance will be provided, as appropriate, to applicants selected for funding.

Peer Review Process

CAPS convenes a panel of HIV/AIDS prevention and policy scientists and members of the CAPS Community Advisory Board to review applications and make recommendations for funding. Each proposal is reviewed in detail by at least three members of the panel. Proposals are then discussed in a meeting of the full review panel. Recommendations of the panel are forwarded to the CAPS Senior Leadership Group, which makes final award decisions.

Research Resources

CAPS offers multiple core resources for the design, conduct, and analysis of pilot research, and PIs are encouraged to use them in preparing Innovative Grant proposals. CAPS core services include (1) a scientific mentoring and research training program (Developmental Core); (2) consultation on clinical research study design, biostatistical analyses, qualitative research methods, and data management (Methods Core); (3) consultation on issues related to international research; (4) consultation on issues of policy and ethics; and (5) consultation on community collaboration and dissemination (Community Engagement Core). As part of the submission, applicants are asked to describe other resources and infrastructure that may be available to them to facilitate timely completion of the project. Demonstrating access to such resources is particularly important for international projects, which often face additional hurdles to establishing successful collaborations and obtaining multiple IRB and governmental approvals.

Progress Reporting

Awardees are required to submit a brief progress report 6 months after funding and a final report after 12 months. Awardees will be asked to deliver a presentation about their research findings at a CAPS Town Hall. Funds are awarded with the expectation that the pilot studies will lead to extramural funding, and progress reports should be written with this in mind. For questions concerning the CAPS HIV/AIDS Innovative Pilot Awards Program, please contact Mallory Johnson, PhD 415-476-6284 [email protected]