PHILADELPHIA – University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine investigators are among the 20 recipients nationwide of an NIH grant that encourages investigators to submit proposals for risky ideas. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) will award up to $64 million over five years for his year’s NIH Director’s Transformative Research Projects (T-R01). The T-R01 awards program encourages exploration of exceptionally innovative and original research ideas that have the potential for extraordinary impact, addressing either basic science or clinical challenges. It sidesteps conventional stumbling blocks, such as the need for preliminary data or a restriction on the amount of funds that can be requested that investigators sometimes face when applying for funding for high-risk research.  

David Weiner, PhD, professor of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, will receive $3.2 million, in collaboration with the Public Health Service of Canada and biotech firm Inovio Corp., to develop a universal flu vaccine, one that is intended to protect against all strains of flu.

“This funding will allow us to expand novel research concepts that we have been developing to develop a broadly effective seasonal influenza vaccine to protect our population,” says Weiner. “This funding is an important vote of confidence from the NIH that the concepts that form our application are important and may provide a new approach to this deadly infection.”

George Coukos, MD, PhD, the Celso Ramon Garcia Chair in Reproductive Biology and Director of the Ovarian Cancer Research Center, in collaboration with Chaitanya Divgi, MD, Chief, Nuclear Medicine, and Carl June, MD, Director of Translational Research at the Abramson Family Cancer Research Institute, will receive $3.2 million over five years to develop a personalized immunotherapy that attacks and destroys blood vessels of the targeted tumor.  Such an approach has the potential to work for the majority of solid tumors, becoming a powerful and universal tool that can transform cancer therapy. 

“This funding will allow us to expand novel approaches to target tumors through immune destruction of their vasculature, using antibodies and engineered T lymphocytes as well as develop molecular imaging to screen patients and follow therapy. If successful, this personalized targeted approach can become a truly powerful universal cancer therapy” says Coukos. “Tumor vasculature can be similar among tumor types and its destruction can lead to dramatic tumor responses. This funding is an important vote of confidence from the NIH on our ideas and the collaborative team we have established at Penn.”

The T-R01 program, supported by the NIH Common Fund (formerly the NIH Roadmap for Medical Research), is an incomparable NIH research opportunity for investigators. Scientists are spurred to rethink the way science is conducted and propose truly daring ideas.  The awards can provide up to $25 million in total costs each year for a single project.

“Complex research projects, even exceptionally high impact ones, are tough to get funded without the necessary resources to assemble teams and collect preliminary data. The TR01 awards provide a way for these high impact projects to be pursued,” said NIH Director Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D.

More information on the Transformative R01 Award is at  For descriptions of the 2010 recipients' research plans, see


Penn Medicine is one of the world's leading academic medical centers, dedicated to the related missions of medical education, biomedical research, and excellence in patient care. Penn Medicine consists of the Raymond and Ruth Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania (founded in 1765 as the nation's first medical school) and the University of Pennsylvania Health System, which together form a $5.3 billion enterprise.

The Perelman School of Medicine has been ranked among the top five medical schools in the United States for the past 18 years, according to U.S. News & World Report's survey of research-oriented medical schools. The School is consistently among the nation's top recipients of funding from the National Institutes of Health, with $373 million awarded in the 2015 fiscal year.

The University of Pennsylvania Health System's patient care facilities include: The Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania and Penn Presbyterian Medical Center -- which are recognized as one of the nation's top "Honor Roll" hospitals by U.S. News & World Report -- Chester County Hospital; Lancaster General Health; Penn Wissahickon Hospice; and Pennsylvania Hospital -- the nation's first hospital, founded in 1751. Additional affiliated inpatient care facilities and services throughout the Philadelphia region include Chestnut Hill Hospital and Good Shepherd Penn Partners, a partnership between Good Shepherd Rehabilitation Network and Penn Medicine.

Penn Medicine is committed to improving lives and health through a variety of community-based programs and activities. In fiscal year 2015, Penn Medicine provided $253.3 million to benefit our community.

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