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NIH Earmarks $4M in Small Business Funding for DNA, RNA Sequencing Methods

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb) – The National Institutes of Health has set aside $4 million in funding for small businesses developing novel DNA and direct RNA sequencing methods.

The money will be provided over fiscal years 2017 and 2018 as Direct to Phase II Small Business Innovation Research grants, which eliminate the need for small feasibility studies for nucleic acid sequencing technologies that are ready for later-stage development.

Recent technological advances have substantially decreased the costs associated with genome and transcriptome sequencing, from tens of dollars per base in the 1980s to a fraction of a cent today, the NIH said. "Nevertheless, the cost to completely sequence very large numbers of entire genomes of individual cells or people remains very high, and we remain far from achieving the low costs and high quality needed to enable the use of comprehensive genomic and transcriptomic sequence information in individual healthcare."

As such, the NIH aims to fund research around novel chemistries, physical approaches, and instrumentation for either DNA or direct RNA sequencing, or both.

In terms of the former, the NIH is seeking technologies that generate large numbers of high-quality long reads at a low cost. New physical or chemical detection methods that offer at least an order of magnitude improvement over current high-throughput DNA sequencing approaches are especially encouraged. Of high interest are methods that yield novel sequence-based insights or solve existing limitations, such as base modification determination or the complete sequencing of all DNA in a sample. 

For RNA sequencing, the NIH is looking for novel technologies for quantitatively assessing the sequence of full-length RNA without a cDNA intermediate. Of particular interest are technologies that enable new approaches to RNA analysis such as the determination of base modifications or RNA secondary structure from sequencing.

Also encouraged are high-risk/high-reward projects to develop complete systems or key components for nucleic acid sequencing including ones with physical, chemical, or enzymatic bases. These may include entirely new approaches or ones that significantly improve upon an existing sequencing methodology. 

The NIH expects to award $2 million in each of fiscal years 2017 and 2018 to fund one to three awards. The funding is in addition to the $12 million the agency had previously announced it was earmarking for similar sequencing research projects.

Additional information about this latest funding opportunity is available here.