An oddly titled (“Start-Ups Say Innovation Doesn’t Grow on Trees”) Washington Post column by Kim Hart laments the absence of a 2.8% set-aside for SBIR/STTR awards in the $10B the NIH received in ARRA funds and notes lobbying efforts for Congressional reauthorization of the small business set-aside program:
Cha-Mei Tang, chief executive of Potomac-based Creatv MicroTech, said she submitted a grant application last week to help hire more employees to gather patient samples and statistics in the development of a tool to detect chronic lymphocytic leukemia. She said past efforts to compete for funds that are not reserved for small businesses have been unsuccessful, so she is concerned that companies will not have much of a shot at stimulus money.
“Everything we sell is based on SBIR funding,” Tang said. She said she plans to visit lawmakers on Capitol Hill this week. The House is scheduled this week to take action to reauthorize the SBIR program, which expires at the end of July. The biggest issue in question is whether venture-backed firms should have access to SBIR grants.
Perhaps Creatv MicroTech should consider why they have been unsuccessful in competing for R&D funding and whether this reflects on the soundness of their science, study design, expertise, facilities, etc.
The Enhancing Small Business Research and Innovation Act of 2009 is being reviewed by the House Committee on Science and Technology, whose Chair Bart Gordon (D-Tenn) calls it “one of the most significant bills the Committee will likely address in this Congress”. Right now, the bill extends the life of SBIR/STTR only until 2011 (corresponding Senate bill, SBIR/STTR Reauthorization Act of 2009 [S. 1233], goes through 2023 and gradually increases the set-aside amount until it reaches 3.5% in 2020). Usually, the program is reauthorized for 8-year cycles.
Both bills increase the award levels, and the House also shortens the application review period. One presumes the NIH will be among those extending the 90-day deadline to 180 days recommended in the House report:
The section also directs Federal agencies to render a final decision on each proposal 90 days after the date a solicitation closes. A clear timeline will allow applicants to better forecast and prepare for receipt of potential SBIR awards. Recognizing that the agencies will not be able to meet with this directive in all cases, the section provides the agencies with the authority to extend the 90-day deadline to a 180-day deadline on a case-by-case basis.
With regard to ARRA small-business funding, apparently the recent RFAs — Biomedical Research, Development, and Growth to Spur the Acceleration of New Technologies (BRDG-SPAN) Pilot Program (RC3) ($35M) and Small Business Catalyst Awards for Accelerating Innovative Research (R43) ($5M) — which were not mentioned in the Post article, don’t count.
Regardless, Aprile Pilon of Clarassance, a Rockville-based biopharmaceutical company, “argues that small-business applications get tougher scrutiny than those from academic institutions, and she claims that the board reviewing the applications is largely made up of university representatives.”
What a shocker that the NIH would want to have qualified scientists review the science. Never mind that the paylines for SBIR/STTR grants are much higher than those for the basic biomedical research that will eventually become available for commercialization.
Oh, the Post piece notes that:
Cardin, Van Hollen and Edwards [all D-Md reps] sent a pointed letter to [acting NIH Director] Kington after the hearing [on the SBIR reauthorization bill], saying that his “absence sent a message of indifference.”
Hmm. Wonder what Ray might have on his plate that could possibly be more important than small-business set asides?
Now, not that I am against the NIH Small Business Research programs. Far from it. But when the NIH has to keep raising paylines because there aren’t enough scientifically outstanding and excellent applications competing for these Congressionally designated funds, perhaps industry should put as much effort into evaluating their research practices as lobbying for more federal set-asides.