Funding Opportunities for Bold Research Ideas

August 22, 2023

Transformative discoveries often happen as a result of bold scientific breakthroughs rather than incremental advances, but the conventional grant review system is largely designed for focused research projects and “safe science.” Securing funding for innovative, high-risk projects generally requires different strategies, including targeting specific grant mechanisms that support risky science. These innovative grant mechanisms generally put less emphasis on preliminary data than on vision, logical reasoning, and potential impact. Several federal funding mechanisms and programs are available for investigators with ambitious ideas:

  • NIH’s High-Risk, High-Reward Research (HRHR) Program supports scientists at all career stages who are proposing outstanding high-risk, high-impact research. Preliminary data and detailed experimental plans are not required for any of the HRHR mechanisms, and any topic relevant to NIH’s mission are welcome for submission. Grant mechanisms in the HRHR Program include:
    • Early Independence Award Program (DP5)
      • For exceptional junior scientists bypassing postdoctoral training to launch independent research careers
      • Single PI only; Must be in non-independent research position; Limit of 2 applications per institution
    • New Innovator Award Program (DP2)
    • Pioneer Award Program (DP1)
      • Open to all career stages; Single PI only; Must be new research direction
    • Transformative Research Award (R01)
      • Supports individuals or teams proposing transformative projects that are inherently risky and untested but have the potential to create or overturn fundamental paradigms
      • Open to all career stages; No preliminary data required; Anonymized review process; Not on regular R01 cycle (only one deadline annually)
  • The Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health (ARPA-H) is a recently launched federal funding agency that provides research funding to create new opportunities and solve important problems through ambitious, well-defined, and measurable programs. Each program is led by a Program Manager who champions a core idea, frames a challenge, and awards projects to multidisciplinary teams of performers, whose work is then measured and evaluated to ensure that only the best solutions advance. ARPA-H currently funds performers through:
    • Targeted Programs that are proposed by Program Managers
      • Targeted programs are updated frequently, are typically open for a short period of time, and have tight deadlines
    • An Open Broad Agency Announcement (Open BAA) that seeks to fund proposals that investigate unconventional approaches and enable leaps forward in science and technology

The U-M Medical School Office of Research is also investing in researchers’ bold science through the Research Scouts program, an internal program that funds early-stage ideas that can transform our current understanding of a scientific concept or field, challenge common dogma, or are wildly new and imaginative. The primary goal of the Research Scouts program is to catalyze new, exciting lines of investigation by making bold, creative ideas possible. Medical School researchers with radical scientific ideas are encouraged to apply for funding.

Do you have any bold research ideas or great grant-related resources to share? We’d love to hear about them. Contact the UMMS Research Development team at to share your suggestions and resources.