Notice of Funding Opportunity Publication for Biomedical Data Translator: Technical Feasibility Assessment of Reasoning Tool

Notice Number: NOT-TR-17-023

Key Dates
Release Date:   September 12, 2017

Related Announcements

Issued by
National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS)


This Notice is being published to alert the community that NCATS plans to support the research, development and testing of up to three biomedical reasoning tool prototypes for the Biomedical Data Translator for an estimated $1,000,000 total costs each.  NCATS is utilizing a three-step application process (challenge-concept-proposal) for this expedited program. The duration of each award will be less than one year.

Funding Instrument

The use of other transactions (which are not grants, contracts or cooperative agreements) enables NCATS to manage projects in which development and integration of ideas and expertise from various disciplines are essential to achieve a programmatic goal.  This means proposed projects and/or components of the projects submitted may be expanded, modified, partnered, not supported, or later discontinued based on program needs, emerging methods, technologies, or approaches, and availability of funds.  All awardees will be expected to collaborate and cooperate with NCATS staff, one another and potentially other contributors to the overall program to maximize the exploration of the potential capabilities of Translator and to understand technical feasibility and challenges of having multiple groups build a single resource.  


All U.S. and foreign organizations and U.S. citizens are eligible to apply. This funding opportunity is open to U.S. and foreign organizations, including academic institutions and commercial entities; subcontracts are allowed. U.S. citizens may also apply as individuals without an organizational affiliation and may be direct recipients of an award. Non-citizen individuals residing in the U.S. or foreign country who are not affiliated with either a U.S. or foreign organization are not eligible to be direct recipients of an award.

Expertise and Skills

Successful completion of the application process will require applicants to have specific skills related to translational research and software development.  Applicants will need to demonstrate technical skills, including familiarity with web communication protocols, a variety of programming languages and software stack, and general algorithmic techniques in the areas of artificial intelligence, machine learning, and knowledge engineering, as well as problem solving skills, especially creativity and persistence.  For applicants who are familiar with the specific languages and packages most useful for solving different tasks, the entire challenge process may take between 2 and 8 hours to complete; applicants without the necessary background in each of these areas may take substantially longer. 

Application Process

Step I: Challenge
Prospective applicants must complete a challenge to initiate the application process to ensure that they have the requisite skills to develop a reasoning tool.  The challenge tasks themselves are designed to provide important background and insight into the task of building a biomedical reasoning tool prototype for this program and thereby improve the quality of proposals received.  The challenge is a multi-level computational exercise.  The challenge may be completed as an individual, or as the team that will be part of the proposal provided the team is using a common log in.  Upon successful completion of each level, additional sections of the funding opportunity will be revealed. 

To begin the challenge, go to

Step II: Concept Letter
The computational exercises control access to the instructions, so completion of the computational exercises will enable applicants to view instructions that are necessary to submit the required concept letter.

Step III: Full Proposal
After objective review of concept letters is completed; successful teams will receive written notification with instructions for submitting a full proposal and giving a virtual presentation to the review panel.


NCATS previously issued a funding opportunity announcement for individuals and institutions to participate in the Biomedical Data Translator: Technical Feasibility Assessment and Architecture Design initiative.  The focus of this initiative is to conduct data assessment and technical feasibility analyses for building a data "translator" that integrates multiple types of data from existing data sources including drug effects and intervening types of biological data relevant to understanding pathophysiology.   The purpose of the program is to accelerate biomedical translation by developing a biomedical data "translator" for the research community, thereby facilitating the generation of new hypotheses for understanding and treating disease. 

Through the Biomedical Data Translator initiative, NCATS intends to push the limits of technical feasibility of integrating disparate data types and demonstrating the analytical potential of mining those disparate data types to answer complex questions that can only be answered when biological associations between these data are made. NCATS is currently working with several investigators on the assessment and technical feasibility analysis   The team members and NIH staff participate in quarterly face-to-face events, focused on specific aspects of the Translator project.  In January 2017, it was decided to explore the potential of using a blackboard architecture consisting of three types of components: (1) Blackboard—contains data relevant to the current state of the problem and its solutions; (2) Knowledge sources—independent agents that encode (domain) knowledge needed to solve the problem incrementally; (3) Reasoning tool—an independent module that dynamically controls knowledge source invocations at runtime.  Current awards focus on novel integrations of data that advance translational research and on making knowledge sources interoperable with the blackboard.  To complement this work and complete the feasibility assessment of the proposed architecture, NCATS plans to support the research on, and the development and testing of reasoning tool prototypes with this initiative.

Key events and dates are provided in the table below.  Instructions for submitting the concept letter will be provided in the funding opportunity announcement upon completion of the challenge.

Key Events


Action needed by applicants

Challenge opens
(Step I)

September 7, 2017

Solve challenge puzzle to complete Step I of the process

Concept letters due
(Step II)

September 22, 2017

Submit concept letter following instructions provided through the challenge before 11pm EDT* to complete Step II of the process

Objective review of concept letters completed

October 2, 2017

Receive written notification with instructions for submitting a full proposal and giving a virtual presentation to the review panel if the outcome of objective review is favorable

Biomedical Data Translator public meeting

October 25, 2017

Attend in person (Optional); Webex will be available

Written, full proposal for reasoning tool development that includes milestones due
(Step III)

November 20, 2017

Submit by email the 10-month plan and milestones by 5pm local time* [action taken by AOR for organizations or signing representative for individuals] to initiate Step III of the process.

Virtual presentations of proof-of-concept software and 10-month project plan

November 28-29, 2017

Participate in the virtual meeting with the review panel to complete Step III of the process. **

Awards announced

January 2018

*   Letters and proposals received after these times will not be accepted.
** Applicants should save-the-date to ensure availability for the virtual interview.


Please direct all inquiries to:

National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS)

Frequently asked questions are available at