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NCI Plans $10M for High Priority Small Business Grants

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – The National Cancer Institute said on Monday that it plans to use $10 million to fund new research projects by small businesses that focus on specific high-priority areas where new devices and technologies are needed to support cancer diagnosis and treatment.

Funded under the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program, the new grants will support projects to develop a range of technologies that are based on genomic, proteomic, and metabolomic discoveries, among others.

The SBIR program aims to drive development and facilitate commercialization of technologies from small businesses, particularly to help companies get their innovations beyond the funding gap that occurs after grant funding runs out and before venture or other financing arrives, often referred to as the "valley of death."

One of the new SBIR programs will provide up to $300,000 for phase I and $1.5 million for phase II projects that aim to develop companion diagnostic assays that identify patients who are most likely to respond to particular therapeutic regimens, such as radiation therapy, existing drugs, and drugs that are currently in development.

These projects may seek to develop tests that are based on, but are not limited to, tumor RNA or protein expression or over-expression, gene mutations or deletions and insertions, allelic variation, and enzymatic deficiency.

The program also will provide $300,000 for phase I and $1.5 million for phase II efforts to develop technologies that enable the molecular characterization of individual circulating tumor cells isolated from blood or bone marrow. The ideal system would be a modular platform that combines a CTC capture and separation module with other modules for analysis, such as genomic, metabolomic, proteomic, and mutation analysis at the cell level.

NCI also will use the new funding awards to provide $300,000 for phase I and $2 million for phase II projects seeking to develop 3D human tissue model culture systems that accurately mimic the tumor microenvironment.

Although 2D in vitro culture systems or in vivo animal models are currently the primary systems for testing cancer cell responses to drugs, these 2D systems can provide misrepresentative data, while animal models are expensive, time-consuming, and not always predictive of the effects on human tumors.

According to NCI, 3D culture systems that mimic the tumor microenvironment using human tissue could provide a better tool for drug screening by providing more accurate, in vivo-like structure and organization and could reduce the cost and time required compared to using animal models.

NCI also will provide $200,000 for phase I and $1 million for phase II projects to develop anti-peptide capture reagents for affinity-enriched proteomic studies. These small businesses will work with NCI's Clinical Proteomic Technologies for Cancer community and other partners to develop proof-of-concept strategies or technologies that generate reagents that can produce stronger immune responses to peptide antigens than current technologies and use other methods to immunoprecipitate peptides.

A range of other projects funded by these grants are posted on NCI's SBIR website.

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