NCI recently completed the retooling of its Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) Programs to enhance their role as an engine of innovation, and cancer imaging technology is one of the top priorities for the programs.
In 2007 at the request of former NIH Director Dr. Elias Zerhouni, NCI took the leadership role in developing new initiatives for the small business set-aside research programs across all NIH institutes. One of the major changes was to consolidate the management of NCI's more than 300 small business projects - previously scattered across the Institute's numerous research divisions - into a new NCI SBIR Development Center, staffed by professionals with specific industry and entrepreneurial expertise. Cancer imaging technologies are the largest single component of NCI's small business portfolio, making up about 30 percent of all such projects.
Dr. David Beylin was recently hired for NCI's small business center. He came to NCI from Naviscan, Inc., a medical device company which used SBIR funds to take its PEM Flex PET Scanner - a device that combines PET technology with mammography, revealing with high accuracy and sensitivity breast tumors as small as a grain of rice - through the stages of development, prototype building, and clinical trials. The SBIR funds enabled Naviscan to raise more than $20 million of venture capital, obtain FDA clearances, and start selling the device in the United States.
To avoid the "valley of death" that many former SBIR projects encounter after the NCI funding for their projects ends and before private investors are willing to pledge support, another new NCI initiative offers small businesses the opportunity to compete for SBIR Bridge Awards to extend funding up to a total of $3 million over an additional 3 years.
Cancer imaging and therapeutics are the two priority areas for the Bridge Awards, noted NCI SBIR Development Center Director Michael Weingarten. Recently for the first time, the SBIR peer-review panels for the Bridge Awards included panelists with venture capital and entrepreneurial backgrounds. The reviewers' discussions "broke important new ground by evaluating both the science and the commercialization strategies of the companies' proposals," he noted. "The salient feature of this award is that it encourages partnerships between NIH's SBIR Phase II awardees and third-party investors or strategic partners that have significant prior experience in the commercialization of emerging technologies."