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NCI Grants Aim to Bridge 'Valley of Death' for Dx, Prognostic, Imaging Tools

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – The National Cancer Institute will grant up to $10 million in 2010 specifically to help small businesses commercialize cancer diagnostics, prognostics, imaging tools, and therapeutics, according to an NCI request for applications.

The Phase II Bridge Small Business Innovation Research grants are designed for firms that already have received Phase II SBIR funding. NCI will award grants of up to $1 million per year over three years to help the firms push their technologies through the funding gap between the end of Phase II funding and commercialization that is commonly referred to as the "Valley of Death."

According to NCI, a "major goal" of the program is to "provide a platform to incentivize partnerships between NIH-funded SBIR awardees and a broad range of potential third-party investors."

One of the three focus areas of the efforts will be in vitro and ex vivo cancer diagnostic and prognostic tools.

These could include molecular diagnostics and predictive tools, such as in vitro diagnostic multivariate assays, diagnostic image analysis tools, and spectroscopic techniques for in vivo and ex vivo tissue analyses.

Applicants for this program are expected to already have completed certain steps in the development of their technologies, such as identifying and selecting cancer biomarkers, designing and developing a prototype system or assay, characterizing the tools in terms of their reproducibility and accuracy, developing a qualified assay for the biomarker for a clinical setting, and initiating validation studies in relevant patient populations.

"A number of public and private organizations have begun to recognize the challenges associated with the 'Valley of Death' and are taking steps to provide additional resources to advance a greater number of early-stage technologies toward commercialization," NCI explained.

Examples include large biotechnology and pharmaceutical firms, technology incubators, universities that have created venture funds to support technologies developed by their resident investigators, and state-sponsored funds geared for supporting start-ups.

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