Increasing diversity through the NCI SBIR development centre

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Published: 25 Apr 2018
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Dr Christie Canaria - National Cancer Institute, Rockville, USA

Dr Canaria talks to ecancer at AACR 2018 about the NCI SBIR development centre.

She discusses the importance of encouraging diverse projects with diverse participants, particularly people of colour, women, and socially and economically disadvantaged groups.

She outlines the application process and what kind of projects are assisted.

For more about the projects supported by the SBIR, watch our interview with Michael Weingarten.

The NCI SBIR Development Centre is the National Cancer Institute’s engine for driving innovation from the lab and bench to the commercial space.

What is your focus in the SBIR?

The National Cancer Institute will fund most projects that are investigator initiated in any of the cancer spaces but the companies that we fund tend to work a lot in the therapeutic space but also the medical device space, the diagnostic space, the research tool space, also imaging reagents.

What kind of assistance do you provide and who is targeted?

The policies around the SBIR programme are focussed on driving economic activity for technologies that are federally funded. In addition, part of what the SBIR programme’s goal is to increase diversity in the entrepreneurship workspace. So that includes small businesses that are funded and run by women and socially and economically disadvantaged groups. We have assistance programmes available for new or first time applicants. In particular, one that we have active right now is called the Applicant Assistance Programme and it’s designed to help new investigators apply for SBIR grants.

What do these assistance programmes entail?

For many people who aren’t familiar with the NIH, the NCI and its grant programmes there are a lot of different components that go into successful application. A lot of that actually happens before you apply. So the Applicant Assistance Programme supports new investigators and new applicants to do simple things like get their small business registrations completed. It helps them understand what types of paperwork are required; it helps them understand how to craft a budget that is appropriate for the NIH grant system and it’s all designed to help new investigators win these awards.

What long term benefits will this bring to the oncology community?

The SBIR programme is designed to translate technologies from the bench to the commercial space. So many times the work that researchers are doing in the lab needs to get out to a broad population. One of the ways that is available for that is through commercialisation and that’s one way we can get these technologies, these life-saving new techniques and therapeutics out from the bench, from the lab where they start, out into the commercial space where they can really benefit patients and be used by clinicians.

How is the project funded?

The SBIR programmes are Congressionally mandated. The federal funding agencies actually have a set aside budget to support commercialisation and that plays out in grants and R&D contracts that we provide to small businesses.

Is there anything you’d like to add?

The NIH and the NCI recognise that diversity is important, not only in our workforce but in the researchers that we fund. So much of what they do will inform the types of technologies that come out and the populations that they serve so it’s very important for us that we have a diverse workforce both inside and outside the NIH and the NCI.