Focus on Brain Program

The Focus on Brain competition is currently closed.

The announcement of the awarded research projects under the 2016 Focus on Brain competition was done in January, 2017.

Please see the Frequently asked Questions (FAQ) here.

Scope of Program

The program will support pre-competitive research or platforms and tools that can enhance, improve, accelerate and facilitate the discovery or the development of new drugs. Although not intended to fund the development of specific new drugs or new molecular entities (NMEs), technologies with the potential to lead to the discovery of NMEs such as chemical platforms generating libraries of new compounds or technologies enabling the identification of “hits” or lead candidates are eligible. Examples of eligible projects involving NMEs could include and are not limited to a) the development of a new chemistry platform generating compounds with extended half-lives and/or improved bioavailability or b) the identification of new hits as proof of concept and/or validation of a novel screening tool. This program seeks to support innovation and is focused on multi-disciplinary translational research that will generate applicable results for the biopharmaceutical industry at the end of the project.

The research agenda for this program is broad. The program extends to all scientific and technical fields directly related to new drug discovery and development and all research areas that could provide new tools for biopharmaceutical research relevant to the neurosciences, special senses, and mental health. These include, for example, biomedical engineering, nanotechnology, robotics applied to high-throughput screening, computational neuroscience, medical devices, diagnostics, imaging technologies, biomarkers, biosensors, optogenetics, in silico and in vitro screening systems, novel animal models with translational capacity, innovative statistical approaches and new clinical trial paradigms that will accelerate and reduce the costs of trials demonstrating efficacy and safety, etc. The proposed research must address the most crucial and pressing needs of biopharmaceutical research.

Eligibility Guidelines

This program is focused on multi-disciplinary and collaborative efforts between academic institutions and SMEs. To be eligible for funding, research must be performed in Canada. Proposals must meet the following requirements:

  • Applications must be from a team of two or more eligible investigators from at least two Canadian provinces.
  • Eligible investigators are those appointed by and working at a University, hospital, affiliated research institution or employed by SMEs in the field of life sciences, biotechnologies, biopharmaceuticals, medical devices, diagnostics, engineering, imaging, or contract research organizations (“CRO”).
  • Multinational pharmaceutical companies are not entitled to receive funds from this program.
  • At least one investigator from the academic sector is mandatory. Teams may include investigators from the academic sector only; however, since SMEs are well-placed to contribute industry know-how and to link the developed technologies, platforms or tools with potential users, they are considered to bring great added value to this program.
  • Although not mandatory, collaborations between the academic sector and SMEs are strongly encouraged. Please note that CQDM can finance both academic and industrial investigators. Therefore SMEs can be funded through this program to up to 50% of the overall budget; that is, SMEs can be funded by the portion of the grant provided by CQDM.


Grants will be for a maximum of $500,000 per year for up to three years ($1.5M in total). The overall budget details must be clear and well justified. Depending on the quality of applications, approximately 3-4 grants are likely to be awarded.

Grants must be fully justifiable and may only be used to pay the reasonable costs of items that directly support the objectives of the project, including:

  • Salaries of research personnel necessary for the project (students, post-doctoral fellows, technical/professional assistants).
  • Materials and supplies necessary for the realisation of the project.
  • Provision of special services and user fees.
  • Maintenance of essential equipment.
  • Travelling expenses (for field work, collaborations, and presentation of results at conferences).
  • Intellectual property protection costs (patent application, maintenance fees during the funding period).

Given that CQDM and Brain Canada are funded by the federal Government, grants may not be used to pay the salaries of any of the research team and staff members including, without limitation, any team leaders, applicants or co-applicants, or to pay indirect costs, such as overhead, which are already financed under other federal government programs. Acquisition costs associated with equipment are not eligible for funding under this RFA.

Application, review, and decision process

The funding will be awarded following a competitive process in two stages: 1. Letters of intent and 2. Full proposals.

1. Letters of Intent

To encourage eligible researchers to submit a wide range of creative proposals, the first stage is a brief and simple Letter of Intent (LOI), which will be available on Brain Canada’s website ( Before 5 PM EDT on December 15, 2015, applicants must submit a letter of intent describing the project to the Partners. LOIs will be evaluated primarily on potential impact on the drug discovery process, i.e. the potential to accelerate, enhance or improve the drug R&D process, global competiveness and innovativeness of the proposed work. The selection of the letters of intent will be overseen by a CQDM/Brain Canada joint selection committee composed of members from CQDM’s strategic orientation committee (including industry and academic representatives) and Brain Canada representatives and by a panel of external pharmaceutical executives who are independent of the Partners and their membership. Only applicants whose letter of intent is selected will be invited to submit a full project proposal.

2. Full proposals

Applicants whose letters of intent are considered highly promising and aligned with the program objectives will be invited to submit a full project proposal. Full proposals are due no later than 5 PM EDT on April 28, 2016. They will undergo a 3-step evaluation process: a scientific evaluation, a risk assessment, and an evaluation for potential impact on biopharmaceutical research.

Scientific review of full proposals

The scientific evaluation will be overseen by CQDM and Brain Canada. An independently chaired peer review committee will be convened with scientific experts from outside of Canada. The selected experts will be asked to comment on the quality of the proposals in particular on their scientific excellence, feasibility, and impact with reference to the evaluation criteria and the chair person will report the scientific ranking of projects to the Partners. All applicants will receive anonymized reviewer comments.

The selection process shall include the following criteria:

  • Scientific merit: creativity, novelty and significance of the proposal; differentiation of the proposed work from other international efforts; track record of participants (principal investigators and co-investigators) in producing original, high quality research; and in particular in developing technologies, platforms or tools of relevance to drug development. Soundness of the experimental design.
  • Feasibility and efficiency: current state of development of the technology; capability and capacity to execute the project within time and budget allocated, including preliminary evidence where appropriate; clear, well-defined, deliverables and milestones linked realistically to the research plan and associated Gantt; adequacy of plans for effective management of the research team and project.
  • Positioning amongst other initiatives (collaboration between academic and private organizations is strongly encouraged): capacity of the project to generate applicable results by the end of the project with a direct impact on drug discovery or development; its likely impact on drug discovery or development and the potential to address important unmet needs in biopharmaceutical research.
  • Commercial opportunities and Business Plan: The quality of the opportunities the technology will create in the biopharmaceutical R&D sector. The potential commercial value of the technology and the soundness of the technical development plan that would be required to ultimately commercialise the technology (manufacturing, scale-up, regulation, foreground and background IP, etc.), within reasonable timelines. If applicable, the completeness of the business plan and the alignment the project with corporate goals; the creation synergistic value for the organization.
  • Added value (collaboration between academic and private organizations is strongly encouraged): the added value of the multidisciplinary research collaboration between the research entities; potential synergies between the project and major national and international research initiatives, and how these will be realised.

Risk Assessment of full proposals

Applications that receive a high rating on scientific merit from the expert reviewers will be subject to a further evaluation to assess any potential risks that might jeopardize the successful achievement of the research project. This evaluation will be conducted by staff from the Partners and will take the form of a site visit and/or meeting between the CQDM and the principal investigator and the main co-investigators. Aspects of the proposal such as intellectual property (IP), ethics, the business profile and capacity of SME partner(s), and project management will be evaluated, and CQDM or Brain Canada may make any inquiries or request any supporting documentation which it deems necessary in order to properly evaluate an application.

Evaluation of Potential Impact on Biopharmaceutical Research

The results of both the scientific and risk assessments will be presented to the CQDM/Brain Canada/ joint selection committee which will evaluate the overall likely impact of the project on biopharmaceutical research and will recommend proposals for funding. The Boards of CQDM and Brain Canada will receive the recommendations of the Selection Committee and will jointly select which research projects will be funded. The Partners’ decisions are final, and shall not be revisited or re-reviewed under any circumstances.

Licensing policy

  • A research agreement must be signed by all research entities involved in the project within 3 months after the funding confirmation;
  • Intellectual property generated under this funding program will be managed according to the policies of the financial partners involved;
  • A license option will be granted to the CQDM industrial sponsors (the parent organization and its subsidiaries) for the use of all the results for R&D purposes only. The main conditions of the end-user license option will be negotiated before the beginning of the project and will take into account pre-existing IP as well as contribution from each party;
  • CQDM industrial sponsors will have no rights to commercialize the IP resulting from the project or the pre-existing IP.