FAQs on the

SPARC-MDD Partnership


What is Michigan Drug Discovery

Michigan Drug Discovery (MDD) is a university-spanning collaboration to find, fund, and mentor drug discovery projects originating from faculty research across all disease areas. The center supports U-M investigators’ research in areas of unmet medical need with complementary expertise and technology in every step of the drug discovery process.

Michigan Drug Discovery staff provide guidance, strategy, and coordination of the university’s full drug discovery resources. The center is supported by an executive committee and an external advisory board representing scientific, medical, and commercialization experts in the field of drug discovery.

What is SPARC?

The Sun Pharma Advanced Research Company (SPARC) is a pharmaceutical company focused on continuously improving standards of care for patients globally through innovation in therapeutics and delivery. SPARC consistently aims to lower costs and improve operational efficiencies to advance availability and affordability of cures for patients across the world. More information about the company can be found at

What is the SPARC-MDD Partnership?

A partnership between the University of Michigan and Sun Pharma Advanced Research Company (SPARC) provides financial support and industry resources to accelerate the development of potential new medicines for a wide range of diseases.

This partnership provides up to a total of $10 million in financial support and in-kind industry resources to move promising drug-discovery research projects from within the university toward the ultimate goal of new therapies for patients. Working with Michigan Drug Discovery, SPARC will support projects selected from across U-M’s broad research enterprise.

Who manages the SPARC-MDD Partnership?

The SPARC-MDD Partnership is jointly managed by Michigan Drug Discovery and U-M Innovation Partnerships.

A Joint Steering Committee (JSC) oversees the collaboration and selects projects.

    • U-M JSC members
      • Ed Pagani, PhD, Associate Director of Licensing, Managing Director Therapeutic Partnerships
      • Peter Toogood, PhD, Director, Michigan Drug Discovery
      • James Shayman, MD, Agnes C and Frank D McKay Professor, Professor of Pharmacology and Professor of Internal Medicine
    • SPARC JSC members
      • Nitin Damle, PhD, Sr. VP and Chief Innovation Officer
      • Vikram Ramanathan, PhD, VP and Head of Translational Development
      • Rajesh Ranganathan, PhD, VP Partnerships and Portfolio Strategy

Alliance managers at both U-M and SPARC handle administration of the partnership.

    • U-M alliance manager: Traci Swan Rowe, MBA, Project Manger, Michigan Drug Discovery
    • SPARC alliance manager: Rajesh Ranganathan, PhD, VP Partnerships and Portfolio Strategy
What if I am interested but have never run a drug discovery project before?

If you are new to drug discovery or have questions, please email or contact Michigan Drug Discovery for advice. Michigan Drug Discovery staff will be happy to help.

I have other questions not covered here – how do I get help?

About the SPARC-MDD Partnership Grant

What is the SPARC-MDD Partnership Grant?

The SPARC-MDD Partnership Grant provides funding and collaborative support for therapeutics projects led by U-M faculty. Selected projects have the potential to receive the equivalent of up to $1.5 million over a three-year period, including in-kind support in areas such as medicinal chemistry and preclinical development. The funded research will be collaborative, with U-M and SPARC teams working closely together. The collaboration may last for up to three years. During this term, SPARC has the option to license project inventions for commercial purposes.

Does SPARC have partnerships with any other academic institutions?

Yes, SPARC has entered into similar partnerships with a number of other U.S. universities.

Applying for the SPARC-MDD Partnership Grant

Who is eligible for the SPARC-MDD Partnership Grant?

All faculty members (instructional and research track) employed by the University of Michigan are eligible to submit applications.

When is the deadline to apply?

Michigan Drug Discovery accepts new and resubmitted applications on a rolling basis. However, Michigan Drug Discovery and the SPARC-MDD JSC review proposals two to three times per year, and Michigan Drug Discovery will provide notice when new review cycles are initiated. Sign up to be notified when Michigan Drug Discovery announces a new review cycle.

In which therapeutic areas of focus is SPARC interested?
    • Oncology – All indications, with a preference for PDAC, CRPC, prostate, breast including triple negative, AML, and glioblastoma. However, projects focused on epigenetic targets/pathways and immunooncology projects will not be considered.
    • Neurodegenerative diseases – Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, cognitive and movement disorders
    • Immunoinflammatory diseases, especially as they pertain to the eye or the skin
    • Complex drug delivery or formulation of existing drugs in the above indication
What is the budget of the grant?

Funding and in-kind support will be tailored according to the needs of each project, with a value of up to $1.5M over three years.

The support from SPARC will be split fairly evenly between direct and in-kind support. To maintain flexibility, the exact level of support and allocation of funding will be determined for each project, but a general example of a yearly budget is:

 Yearly funding ($)
U-M direct support 160,000
U-M Indirect costs (56%) 89,600
U-M total 250,000
SPARC in-kind 250,000
TOTAL 500,000

These budget numbers should be used as a guide, not a strict limit. The budget in your proposal should accurately reflect what the work will cost and should consider the scope of what could reasonably be accomplished at approximately this level of support.

What is the application process?

The application process has multiple steps and stages of review (see below). At each stage, Michigan Drug Discovery staff will review materials before sending them to SPARC to ensure compliance with the guidelines and to help PIs strengthen their applications.

Application steps:

    1. Strongly recommended pre-submission meeting with Michigan Drug Discovery
    2. Short proposal (6 pages)
        • As early as possible, discuss your plans to submit a proposal with your licensing manager in the Innovation Partnerships, or submit a new invention disclosure on the technology, if necessary. (If you have never worked with Innovation Partnerships before contact Ed Pagani, Managing Director of Therapeutic Partnerships.)
        • Michigan Drug Discovery sets an internal deadline to review the proposals and will reach out if changes are needed before submitting to SPARC.
        • After the internal deadline, Innovation Partnerships adds all new proposals to the non-disclosure agreement with SPARC.
        • Michigan Drug Discovery sends the short proposals to SPARC.
        • The JSC discusses and prioritizes the short proposals for further diligence including the submission of a full proposal.
    3. Full proposal (selected projects)
        • Michigan Drug Discovery provides mentorship through the proposal application process.
        • PAF must be submitted and signed by home department before proposals can be sent to SPARC.
        • Reagents and materials used in the proposed research plan along with background inventions (together Background IP) will be reviewed by Innovation Partnerships. Innovation Partnerships will verify that the Background IP is solely owned or controlled by the University of Michigan before the proposal is submitted to SPARC.
        • JSC reviews and prioritizes the full proposals.
    4. Q&A with SPARC team
        • U-M PIs and SPARC team discuss the proposal in detail; a formal slide presentation is not required.
        • On some projects, SPARC requests further information in the form of written questions.
    5. SPARC makes a final decision on funding
        • If selected, the joint U-M and SPARC teams develop a project plan and budget.
        • Projects not selected for funding receive detailed feedback.
What is the timeline for application and review process?

The total application process can take 6-8 months. Michigan Drug Discovery works closely with SPARC to make the process as efficient as possible.

    • Decision on invitation for full proposal 2-3 months after submission of short proposal
    • 5-2 months to prepare full proposal
    • Q&A/discussion session with SPARC 1 month after submitting full proposal
    • Further information in the form of written response due 1 month after receiving questions (not always required)
    • Final decision from SPARC 1 month later
What is the review process?

Each proposal will undergo two levels of review. The first level of review is by Michigan Drug Discovery staff to ensure compliance with the guidelines. Feedback and suggestions may be provided to the PI at this stage to help strengthen the proposal and increase its likelihood of success. The second level of review is by the SPARC-MDD Joint Steering Committee, who will evaluate the scientific merits of the proposal, as well as how well it fits the SPARC research and development portfolio.

What are the criteria for review? What are the aspects of a competitive proposal?

The research proposal should have a therapeutic focus and must address a significant unmet medical need in a therapeutic areas of focus for SPARC (see below). Reviewers will evaluate the proposals based on the following criteria:

    • A clear statement of the scientific hypothesis to be tested, supported by target validation and elucidation of the disease pathway.
    • An explanation of the rationale and significance of the research
    • In vivo or equivalent proof of concept data
    • A lead compound or starting antibody structure that could still require additional optimization
    • A demonstrable/viable IP strategy. If patents or patent applications have not been filed, there should be a strong potential for obtaining defensible intellectual property
    • A clear articulation of the how the proposed research, if successful, will represent an advance over current treatments and treatments currently in development
    • The research plan is consistent with a milestone-driven experimental approach
    • The results, whether positive or negative, will support prospective “go/no-go” decision criteria
    • The research plan will result in important scientific information about disease mechanisms and/or treatment, even if the proposed intervention ultimately does not look promising
    • Background IP, if any, is owned or controlled by the University of Michigan and is available to license to SPARC for internal research and commercial purposes

Funded Projects and Collaborations

What happens after a project is selected for the Partnership Grant?

After a project is selected for funding, the U-M and SPARC project teams will write a detailed project plan with a budget, go/no-go milestones, and clearly defined roles for all parties. The alliance managers will serve as project managers and remain involved throughout the collaboration.

What work will be done at U-M?

The details on the division of labor between U-M and SPARC teams will be established in the project plan. Generally, the research done at U-M and in the PI’s lab will include (but not be limited to) work on the novel biology and mechanism of action. For example, this could be testing new analogs in the lab’s novel assay, studying the structure-activity relationship, or investigating the mechanism of action.

What work will be done at SPARC?

The details on the division of labor between U-M and SPARC teams will be established in the project plan. SPARC has experience and expertise in every stage of the drug discovery and development process, from preclinical testing through clinical trials and commercialization. For most SPARC-MDD projects, we expect to take advantage of SPARC’s extensive medicinal chemistry resources in the hit-to-lead and lead optimization process.

What happens at the end of the grant/collaboration?

The collaboration may last for up to three years. During this term, SPARC has the option to license project Inventions for commercial purposes.

What happens if the project does not meet the yearly milestones?

Each project is funded for up to three years. Funding for years two and three of the collaboration is dependent on meeting the milestones established in the project plan. Every year, the JSC will evaluate progress towards these milestones and make a decision on continuation of funding.

Intellectual Property (IP) Considerations

Questions pertaining to the treatment of background inventions and know-how, and disposition of future inventions made during the collaboration can be discussed with U-M Innovation Partnerships.

Is the information in my proposal confidential?

Yes, any information in the proposal that is designated U-M Confidential Information is protected and treated by the terms of the SPARC-UM Non-Disclosure Agreement.

What happens to project inventions at the end of the collaboration?

The collaboration may last for up to three years. During this term SPARC has the option to license project inventions for commercial purposes. Please contact Innovation Partnerships for more information on the disposition of future inventions made during the collaboration.

What if I have already licensed my project/technology to another company?

The proposal is not eligible for the SPARC-MDD Partnership Grant.

What if I have already formed a start-up around my project/technology?

The proposal is not eligible for the SPARC-MDD Partnership Grant.