UPMC Hillman Cancer Center Developmental Pilot Program

Proposal Due Dates: May 1, 2024 at 5 p.m. ET 

The UPMC Hillman Cancer Center Developmental Pilot Program is intended to support the development of cancer research led by Hillman members and to stimulate new applications for extramural funding. All UPMC Hillman Cancer Center members are encouraged to apply.

Please carefully review directions.

  • This program funds pilot awards, up to $50,000 for one year.
  • All Hillman faculty members are encouraged to apply.
  • For the general RFA, proposals on any cancer-relevant topic will be accepted in the following science tracks:
    • Basic Science
    • Clinical/Translational Science
    • Population Science
  • In addition to the general RFA, there is a targeted research RFA focused on catchment area (CA) research (see below for details). Note that pancreatic cancer has emerged as an area of concern within our CA and as such pilots focused on pancreatic cancer will be considered responsive to this RFA.
  • There is also a targeted research RFA focused on transdisciplinary lung cancer research stemming from the March 27, 2024 retreat, “Shaping the future of lung cancer research at UPMC Hillman Cancer Center” (see below for details).
  • The Hillman Developmental Pilot Program has incorporated the NCI priority areas of inter & intra-programmatic collaboration. While not a requirement for funding, collaborations will be taken into consideration during second-tier review.
  • The signature of the relevant departmental/divisional administrator must also appear on the title page to acknowledge that effort is required of the PI and that this effort must be counted when determining the PI’s total effort to ensure that he/she does not exceed 100% effort when all activities are considered.
  • Awards have an expected start date of July 1, 2024.

Please direct any questions to Moira Hitchens at hitchensm2@upmc.edu.

Terms of the Award

  • Funds should be expended within one year of receipt.
  • Contact Moira Hitchens (hitchensm2@upmc.edu) for requests to change the start date or extend the funding period (no-cost extension).
  • A report summarizing financial expenditures and scientific outcomes of the project will be required after the end of funding or earlier if warranted.
  • When requested, all awardees will be expected to provide updates of publications and long-term grant support that originated from the award.
  • Faculty awardees may be asked to participate in the review process for four future rounds (two years).


Principal Investigators must have a University of Pittsburgh faculty appointment and be a Hillman Cancer Center member. Membership requires going through an application process that can be found on the UPMC Hillman Cancer Center Membership webpage. If you are unsure about whether you are a current Hillman Cancer Center member, please send an inquiry to hccmembership@upmc.edu.

Applicants can be PI or MPI on only one proposal per cycle but can be named on other proposals as a Co-Investigator.

Individuals currently receiving Hillman Developmental Pilot Program funding as a PI or MPI are not eligible to apply.


Proposals will be judged by the following criteria:
  • Scientific merit
  • Innovation
  • Cancer relevance
  • Qualifications, experience and productivity of the applicant(s)
  • Project feasibility given facilities, budget, time, and other resources available
  • Potential for future external funding and publications
  • Budget


Proposal review committees will be chaired by a Hillman associate director and be composed of Hillman members. The review committees will be made up of both former awardees and ad hoc experts, chosen based on the applications received. Applications will be assigned to two reviewers having the appropriate expertise. Reviewers will score applications according to the criteria listed above, using the NIH scale of 1-9 (best to worst). Final funding decisions will be made by Hillman senior leadership based on the scientific review and programmatic needs. A brief summary statement will be provided to the applicant.


Projects must be completed within the designated period of the grant proposal, which is one year for all awards. Clinical applicants or others with time-consuming protocol requirements may apply for a change in start/end dates. No-cost extensions must be formally requested.

Funds may be requested for any of the standard NIH budget categories and for purposes deemed necessary for the successful execution of the proposed project. However, restrictions and additional scrutiny apply:

  1. Personnel: HCC pilot awards may not be used for salary support for the Principal Investigator or any other faculty-level personnel. However, Principal Investigator effort (minimum of 1%) must be reflected on the budget page and must be cost shared by the department or other entity that will support such an effort. Funds can be used for the salary of lab personnel, such as trainees and staff, but a budget > 25% for personnel will require a comprehensive justification and will be heavily scrutinized.
  2. Travel: Requests for travel support (for example, to conferences) are not permitted.
  3. Equipment: Requests for equipment should be limited to funds directly related to project performance. For example, a laptop for a research assistant to use in the clinic to collect data would be appropriate.


  • Prior to funding, all awarded projects that involve animals or human subjects must be reviewed and approved in accordance with Hillman’s general assurances and HIPAA. Reviews and approvals may be “Just in Time” and are not required for registration/application. Projects involving human subjects must be submitted to an Institutional Review Board (IRB). All investigators and all persons named on the budget page must have certification of training in the protection of human subjects. Appropriate animal forms must also be filed and approved.
  • A summary progress report must be submitted after the end date of support or earlier if warranted. The summary progress report should give a financial accounting of funds used for the project, and reference all research products planned or generated, including abstracts submitted/published, peer-reviewed articles submitted/published, grant applications submitted/funded, and potential/actual intellectual property (reports of invention, etc.).
  • PIs will provide updates on publications, grants, and patents after the end of funding when asked.
  • Where applicable, progress reports should identify the Hillman catchment area counties and any minority or medically underserved populations that are involved or affected.
  • All manuscripts, abstracts, posters, and presentations should acknowledge support from UPMC Hillman Cancer Center Developmental Funds, e.g., “This project was supported by NIH grant P30CA047904 awarded to UPMC Hillman Cancer Center.” If a Hillman CCSG-supported shared resource provided data, please also include the following statement: “This project used the Hillman Cancer Center [insert name(s) of shared resource(s)] that [is/are] supported in part by award P30CA047904.” Funded investigators that fail to adhere to this policy will be barred from future submissions to the Developmental Pilot Program for a period of one year.
  • Awards co-funded by multiple sources will also adhere to reporting and other requirements established by those sources.
  • Faculty awardees may be asked to serve on review committees.

Application Format (in this order)

All proposals must be submitted as a single PDF and include the following components in the order indicated:

  1. A Title Page that includes the following items. Please note that submitting online does not automatically create this title page.
    1. Title of the proposal
    2. PI’s name, research program, faculty rank, and contact information
    3. Science track (basic, clinical/translational, or population science)
    4. Total budget requested
    5. The signature of the relevant departmental/divisional administrator must also appear to acknowledge that effort is required of the PI and that this effort must be counted when determining the investigator’s total effort to ensure that he/she does not exceed 100% effort when all activities are considered
    6. Which RFA the proposal is in response to (general, CA-focused research, transdisciplinary lung cancer research)
  2. Scientific Abstract: The abstract summary of the proposal. For use by review committee members and UPMC Hillman Cancer Center (250-word maximum).
  3. Lay Abstract: A brief summary of the proposal, written for the general public (100-word maximum).
  4. Impact Statement: (half a page maximum)
    1. For general RFA: In lay terms, describe how the proposed work will impact cancer research and/or patient care.
    2. For CA-focused RFA: In lay terms, describe how the proposed work will impact the UPMC Hillman Cancer Center catchment area. Include the populations and/or geographic locations the research targets.
    3. For transdisciplinary lung cancer RFA: In lay terms, describe how the proposed work will impact lung cancer research and/or patient care.
  5. Introduction: If your proposal was not funded, you may submit the same idea again, one time. For re-submission, include a ½ page response to the previous critique.
  6. Research Plan (3-page limit, including tables and figures):
    1. Specific Aims
      • For transdisciplinary lung cancer research, include how the idea arose from the retreat
    2. Innovation
    3. Cancer Relevance
    4. Approach
    5. Proposal Timeline and Plan for Future Grant Submission
  7. Budget: Use PHS 398 Form Page Download
  8. Budget Justification: The Budget Justification should include sufficient detail for reviewers to assess whether appropriate resources have been requested (no page limit).
  9. NIH Biosketches for the key members of the research team.
  10. Human and/or Animal Subjects: Although Institutional Review Board (IRB) or Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC) approval is not required prior to submission, briefly describe any human and/or animal subject issues (no page limit):
    1. If human subjects will be involved in the research, provide a description of their involvement and characteristics, specific risks to subjects who participate, and protection against those risks. Describe the sources of materials that will be obtained from human subjects as part of their study participation. Provide assurance that the project will be reviewed and approved by the Hillman IRB and comply with HIPAA. 
    2. If vertebrate animals are to be used, describe the proposed use of the animals in the work outlined and procedures for ensuring that discomfort, distress, pain and injury will be limited. Projects involving animal subjects must be reviewed and approved by IACUC.

Other Requirements/Notes:

  • References do not count towards the three-page limit
  • Use single spacing, font no smaller than Arial 11, and half-inch margins
  • Letters of support may be beyond the three-page limit
  • All of the above must be included in the single PDF proposal
  • No appendices


Applications are due by 5 p.m. ET on May 1, 2024.

PLEASE NOTE: To be eligible for review, each applicant must adhere to the following:

  • All applicants must submit their proposals through the online form on this site.
    The online form must be completed in one session; it does not save partially entered information and you cannot return to it at a later date to finish your submission.
  • Submission must be completed by 5:00 p.m. ET on the deadline date.
  • Investigators must submit (upload) their entire application as a single PDF.
  • The file name must include the PI’s last name.
  • Applications missing one or more of the required components (uploaded single PDF with the PI’s name in the file name) will be considered incomplete and will not be reviewed.
  • Extensions of the deadline will not be granted. Supplementary or additional materials will not be accepted after the submission deadline.

Questions? Email Moira Hitchens, PhD, at hitchensm2@upmc.edu.

Targeted Research Area: CA-focused Research

Proposals submitted in response to this RFA must be focused on catchment area-relevant cancer research. This includes research related to cancers with higher incidence (breast, prostate, colorectal, lung) or mortality (lung, breast prostate) in our catchment, catchment area risk behaviors (obesity, tobacco use, low cancer screening rates, low HPV vaccination rates) and/or research on specific populations known to experience cancer disparities (e.g., racial/ethnic minorities, lower-income, rural residents), or research that targets patients in Hillman network sites. In addition, pancreatic cancer has emerged as an area of concern within our CA and as such pilots focused on pancreatic cancer will be considered responsive to this RFA. 

The NCI requires that all research programs within Comprehensive Cancer Centers include research relevant to their catchment areas. Thus, the overarching goal of this funding opportunity is to support studies that focus on reducing cancer burden for populations that reside in the 29 counties that make up the western half of Pennsylvania, particularly those populations experiencing cancer health disparities. For example, research addressing the specific socioeconomic, environmental, biologic, and behavioral factors that contribute to cancer burden in western PA would be considered responsive to this RFA. For information on specific cancer burdens and cancer disparities in the catchment area that your work may impact, please contact Kathryn Schmitz, PhD (schmitzk@upmc.edu), the Associate Director. for Catchment Area Research.

Targeted Research Area: Transdisciplinary Lung Cancer Research

The Cancer Epidemiology and Prevention Program and Biobehavioral Cancer Control Program are jointly sponsoring the retreat, “Shaping the Future of Lung Cancer Research at UPMC Hillman Cancer Center” to address the burden of lung cancer in the UPMC Hillman catchment area. The retreat seeks to foster the formation of multidisciplinary teams of researchers to develop innovative and impactful approaches in the areas of lung cancer risk assessment, primary prevention, secondary prevention, therapeutics, biology, and basic science. The purpose of this targeted research RFA is to support research ideas arising from the retreat that target lung. cancer across the cancer continuum. While not a requirement for funding, inter-programmatic collaboration will be considered during the second tier of review. Successful pilot applications will receive up to $50,000 for one year.

For Team Science Awards that provide $100,000 to support multi-investigator, team-based efforts for development of a program/center grant submission, such as a P01, related to this retreat, please directly contact Moira Hitchens, PhD (hitchensm2@upmc.edu).

Click here to access the online application form