The National Institutes of Health last week launched a web-based resource aimed at furthering the development of technologies it has either previously outlicensed to companies or funded through its Small Business Innovation Research and Small Business Technology Transfer grants programs.
The resource, called the NIH Pipeline to Partnerships, or P2P, was developed jointly by the NIH Office of Technology Transfer and the NIH SBIR/STTR program office.
According to Mark Rohrbaugh, director of the NIH OTT, the agency initiated the project late last year after it noticed an increasing number of large companies seeking to license technologies from NIH that had been developed to a certain point.
“Companies often come to us looking for something that is beyond a very early stage of development — something that may be in clinical trials,” Rohrbaugh told BTW last week. “Like most universities, we rarely have technologies that are in clinical development available for licensing. We normally have things that, if anything, have gone through some level of animal testing. But it may not even be that far.”
The NIH also observed that many licensees of its technology had been able to move the technology through early clinical development, but often times stalled due to a lack of resources.
Similarly, many companies that had been awarded SBIR or STTR grants to support the development of a nascent biotechnology also had reached a point where they lacked the resources to advance the technology further.
“We partnered with the STTR and SBIR office to combine that information into one dataset and one website, thinking that we all win,” Rohrbaugh said. “In terms of our mission, we have an interest in promoting the further development of those technologies, whether they were SBIR awardees or NIH licensees.
“We all know that small companies may have a good technology, but [may not] have the investment [dollars] to move forward,” he added. “It’s an attempt to address that need, as well.”
The P2P site, which can be accessed here, is designed to provide information to potential investors, partners, and collaborators that may be interested in technologies in the clinical stage of development that NIH may have licensed or supported.
At the core of the site is a chart that breaks down the technologies by application category (diagnostics, therapeutics/intervention, vaccines, devices and instrumentation, and research tools); disease category, of which there are more than 20; and the development phase (research phase, phases I, II, and III, other FDA approval types, and technologies that do not require approval).
Each available technology listed on the site also contains the name of the company that owns it, a brief description, and a link to the company’s external website with further information on the technology and contact details.
The chart does not distinguish between NIH-licensed technologies and SBIR/STTR-developed technologies, but Rohrbaugh said that this was by design because interested parties likely won’t be concerned with these details.
In addition, he said that currently many more SBIR grantees are represented on the site than either STTR or NIH-licensed technologies, partly because there are comparatively many more SBIR grantees in existence, but also because it is much easier for the NIH to gather information on its SBIR awardees.
“The process for contacting our licensees and working with them is slower than gathering SBIR information” because NIH communicates with the latter group on an organized, aggregate basis already, Rohrbaugh said. “There are also more formal mechanisms to track SBIR progress, such as surveys they’ve been involved in over the years, and there aren’t those kinds of things in place for our licensees.”
“We all know that small companies may have a good technology, but if they don’t have the investment to move forward, it may not move forward. It’s an attempt to address that need, as well.”
Rohrbaugh said that NIH works with its licensees individually, and while it receives license reports at least annually, the tracking is more difficult because the agency must communicate individually with each licensee.
As such, NIH is urging SBIR/STTR awardees and especially NIH licensees to visit the site and consider contributing their information if they are interested in courting potential partners or investors. The agency has been gathering its current data only for the last few months, Rohrbaugh said, and thus there are many more licensees and grant recipients out there right now than are represented in the chart.
The development of the P2P resource seems to mesh well with preliminary data from a study that Rohrbaugh is conducting with Ashley Stevens, director of the Office of Technology Development at Boston University, and other technology transfer professionals (see BTW 6/25/2007).
One of the study’s major initial findings is that university technologies, in order to be commercialized, typically go through several stages of development and transfer beforehand: although approximately 55 percent of initial licensees of university technologies studied were small biotechs or start-up companies, the marketing rights to those technologies are now overwhelmingly owned by large, established pharmaceutical companies.
“That’s the trend we see,” Rohrbaugh said. “So while our licenses half the time are with small start-ups or small companies, they don’t end there. They’re either acquired or sold — something happens to transfer the technology to the point where it’s FDA licensed and ready to hit the market, and it’s in the hands of a larger company.”
Therefore, while the P2P resource is not focused on advancing university-developed biotechnologies per se — very few of the SBIR grants are awarded to university spin-outs, Rohrbaugh said — the site does provide another resource to support the spin-out model as a sound mechanism for transferring university technologies from the bench top to the marketplace.
In addition, Rohrbaugh said that the NIH OTT will continue to put resources into outlicensing its more nascent technologies, which may eventually find their way back to the P2P database once they are in the hands of a licensee.
“We certainly will try to market both,” Rohrbaigh said. “We have, in the last few years, enhanced our marketing efforts for more nascent technologies. But for those looking for something a little more advanced, in the mid-development pipeline, we’ll promote this as well.”