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US Senate Committee Passes SBIR/STTR Bill

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – The full US Senate will consider a bill that will reauthorize the Small Business Innovation Research and the Small Business Technology Transfer programs, which are set to expire at the end of July, through 2023.

The Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship unanimously passed the SBIR/STTR Reauthorization Act of 2009 (S. 1233) this week, which will fund the two programs with over $2 billion per year in support grants to early-stage research and development projects at small technology companies.

Committee Chair Senator Mary Landrieu (D – La.) said in a statement Thursday that the bill, along with another geared toward small businesses, "will go a long way toward harvesting new opportunities for entrepreneurs and small businesses all over America. Through the SBIR and STTR programs, small high-technology firms save taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars by developing cutting-edge technologies and creating high-paying jobs."

"By reauthorizing the SBIR and STTR programs, we can unleash the potential of entrepreneurs whose ingenuity and creativity have long served as the engines of our economy," Senator Olympia Snowe (R – Me.), the committee's ranking member, said.

The bill seeks an increase in the allocation which government agencies that fund scientific research would give to small businesses from 2.5 percent to 3.5 percent by the year 2020.

That has drawn criticism from the Federation of Societies for Experimental Biology, which pointed out this week that the SBIR program already provides research agencies with the discretion to fund SBIR applications at a level above 2.5 percent of the agency's budget.

"However, a mandatory increase in the set-aside across agencies will necessarily result in funding cuts for the peer-reviewed basic and applied research that fuels innovation, improves quality of life and contributes to our country's economic growth," FASEB President Richard Marchase wrote in an open letter to the committee.

Instead of "increasing support for one area of research at the expense of all others," Marchase argued, Congress should "increase funding for all research agencies, thereby increasing the total investment in SBIR and other projects."

The bill would raise some award levels from $100,000 to $150,000 and others from $750,000 to $1 million.

It calls for maintaining an Office of Technology that would be responsible for oversight, reporting, and public database responsibilities assigned to it by an administrator.

The Biotechnology Industry Organization's CEO, Jim Greenwood, lauded the bill yesterday in a letter as an "opportunity for biotech companies to compete on the premise of science rather than how they are financed."

Greenwood said he wants Congress to reauthorize the program "as soon as possible in a way that provides a level playing field," referring to changes in the program from 2003 that he said reduced the size of the applicant pool by changing its eligibility requirements.

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