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Genomic Tool Shops Should Look at NIH Grantees as Potential Customers

BOSTON, Aug. 5 - Genomic companies facing dwindling sales and white-hot cash-burn rates can look for help to the US National Institutes of Health--but not just in the traditional sense of research grants.

Companies waiting out the current market doldrums should look at the NIH and its myriad grantees as potential customers, according to Steven Ferguson, deputy director at the NIH's division of technology development and transfer.

"There's always the market for selling products and services at the NIH," said Ferguson, who recounted how agency researchers can stock up on consumables by visiting a store on campus armed with a shopping cart and an NIH credit card.

Really, though, the NIH is just one stop. More than 90 percent of the agency's funding--which the US Senate Appropriations Committee last month sought to boost to $27.2 billion for 2003--goes outside the NIH, said Ferguson. This means that tool shops can market their wares not only to NIH researchers in Rockville, Md., but also to the many academic labs and nonprofits that pay for those tools and consumables with NIH grant money--a fact companies frequently overlook.

Of course, tool and technology companies can go the usual route of SBIR and STTR grants, which are like SBIR grants except that the PI does not have to be an employee of the company that applies for the grant. In fact, the budget increase anticipated by the NIH will mean that the minimum amount of money allotted for each of these grants increases--a fact applicants frequently overlook.

"Congress loves this program," said Ferguson, speaking at the Drug Discovery Technology conference here this morning. "It's been very successful. It's not a whole lot of money in these grants, but it's enough to maybe take some project that may be lying fallow.

"We're particularly interested in helping to get tools developed that can be distributed to other investigators" throughout the NIH and beyond, he said.

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