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NCI Plans $8M for New SBIR Grants for Technology Development

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – The National Cancer Institute today issued a dozen new funding opportunities totaling $8 million aimed at supporting small businesses, including grants that will fund development of companion diagnostics, microarray technologies, multi-analyte tools, and other innovations.

Funded under the Small Business Innovation Research program, the contract grants will provide $200,000 for Phase I and $1.5 million for Phase II awards, and include a range of tools and technologies, such as diagnostics, imaging tools, nanotechnology-based sensors, anti-cancer agents, and radiotherapy. Applications for the 2012 contract topics are due by Nov. 7, 2011.

Todd Haim, SBIR's Program Manager at NCI, told GenomeWeb Daily News today that the topics for these awards were identified as priority areas and warranted a separate funding track from the annual open SBIR omnibus program.

"Each of the NCI divisions were invited to submit topics of interest and we brought together a review panel that included each of the NCI divisions in our office and discussed which topics both met these scientific priorities of the institute and were ripe for commercialization," Haim explained. He said that some of these topics also were generated after scientific workshops and presentations at conferences, and that external input was sought on some specific areas.

In one topic area, NCI wants to stimulate developments and commercialization of new companion diagnostic technologies, and is particularly interested in hearing from firms possessing advanced biomarkers. These tests could be based on tumor RNA/protein expression or overexpression, gene mutation or deletion/insertion, allelic variation, and enzymatic deficiency.

NCI has several goals it would like these small companion diagnostic firms to pursue, such as development of a working test, characterization of the accuracy of the test, and collaborations or partnerships with the necessary entities if a test is tailored to a drug that is not yet on the market.

NCI also wants to use the SBIR contracts for development of low-cost, small multi-analyte tools for cancer diagnosis, prognosis, and early detection. These projects also should develop technologies that can be used with small volume, small cell numbers, or low cancer biomarker specimens obtained by biopsy, surgery, or minimally invasive methods.

These new tools or methodologies could include rapid DNA sequencing tools, DNA/RNA/RNAi sample prep tools, multi-analyte amplification technologies, and point-of-care DNA, RNA, or antibody arrays, among others. If the test under development is used with a complementary device, the market-ready device should cost less than $15,000.

In another topic area, NCI plans to fund development of a tissue microarray tool that would be used in both clinical and research settings. The resulting product will be a modular system that enables clinical and research labs to construct tissue microarrays on a routine basis. The long-term goal is to get a simplified, low-cost technology with a number of specific capabilities.

This microarray grant program also is funded under a new program enabling inventions from the NCI Intramural Research Program, called the NIH Technology Transfer program, to be licensed to qualified small businesses with the intent that those businesses will develop their inventions into commercial products aimed at helping the public.

Haim said that the Technology Transfer program, now in its second year, was "adopted in order to facilitate the movement of innovative intramural technologies toward the marketplace." He and other SBIR program members worked with the offices of technology transfer at NIH and NCI, which submitted some of the technologies from their portfolios that they thought would be good fits for the program.

"One of the nice things about the tech transfer program at NCI for contracts is that any company that gets selected would both negotiate a license – at first a research license – to work on that invention, and they also would have access to the NIH principal investigator/inventor, and then they would also get the SBIR funding that comes with the award."

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