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SBIR Funds Used to Develop Novel Imaging Technologies

SBIR Funds Used to Develop Novel Imaging Technologies

Developing and Commercializing Novel Technologies

Funding is a vital component of any partnership, and NCI has become one of the largest sources of early-stage cancer research technology financing in the U.S. Its Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program, along with the closely allied Small Business Technology Transfer Program (STTR), are NCI's engines for developing and commercializing novel technologies to prevent, diagnose, and treat cancer. (Read more about the NCI SBIR & STTR Programs)

 The NCI funding helped us move forward at a very tough time when investment capital was simply not available.

The two programs seek to increase small business participation and private sector commercialization of technology developed through federal research and development.

Profile of an SBIR Awardee: ImaginAb

To the casual observer, biomedical imaging still means devices such as a computed tomography (CT) scan or X-ray: technology that looks inside the body to visualize everything from broken bones to masses inside organs. For Anna Wu, Ph.D., of the Crump Institute for Molecular Imaging at UCLA, today's most advanced molecular imaging technologies are "tools to look at very specific biological questions in living people."

Image of a prostate cancer grafted onto a mouse (lit up in yellow at hip) and detected using a tracer developed by ImaginAb Image of a prostate cancer grafted onto a mouse (lit up in yellow at hip) and detected using a tracer developed by ImaginAb.

Wu is the founder of, and chief scientific advisor to, a small California-based biotechnology and nanotechnology company called ImaginAb, Inc., which is focused on developing a new class of highly targeted proteins for imaging and therapy, based on engineered antibody fragments.

Antibodies, which detect and help destroy invaders, are substances that can also be engineered to bind to the molecules on the surface of cells that display specific proteins. The antibodies may be used therapeutically to prevent tumor growth by blocking specific cell receptors or by delivering chemical doses to a specific target. What ImaginAb has done is to reformat antibodies into smaller fragments suitable for diagnostic imaging in order to target a given cancer. These small antibody fragments are tied to a positron emitting isotope that allows for molecular imaging of cancer cells using PET (positron emission tomography).

NCI's SBIR program, through its competitive peer review process, made ImaginAb one of its SBIR funding awardees. That infusion of funds, says Wu, "has been invaluable to the company's survival and growth. The NCI funding helped us move forward at a very tough time when investment capital was simply not available." Today, ImaginAb has major global companies as clients and has re-engineered over a dozen therapeutic antibodies into fragments for imaging and possibly for novel therapies.

(Excerpted from Changing the Conversation:  The Nation's Investment in Cancer Research 2012)