Thursday, May 06, 2010

Notes from BIO: Take a Phase II Grant and Call Me in the Morning

One theme we keep hearing in Chicago this week is that early-stage startups, too young to attract serious pharma partnerships and struggling to get venture attention, need all the help they can get.

The National Cancer Institute's forward-thinking Small Business Innovation Research center is adding regulatory counseling to the list of a la carte services available to its grantees. Applications will be available in the fall, and winners will receive 30 hours with a Food and Drug Administration consultant.

We caught up with NCI SBIR director Michael Weingarten and program director Andrew Kurtz at BIO to hear about the program. We also buttonholed Joe Panetta, who runs the Southern California biotech trade group BIOCOM, who said the program "helps ensure that the money invested in basic research has a better chance of becoming products on the market, giving us a better long-term return on that investment."

Last year the NCI's SBIR center launched an award program that extends traditional SBIR funding closer to commercialization with "Bridge" grants, but it requires third-party matching, usually from an industrial partner. It has made six awards so far, with up to 10 more due by September. The center hosted a VC-like meet-and-greet at Boston University last fall to expose its portfolio companies to possible partners. This year it's headed west, with a meeting set for Nov. 9 at Stanford University. For that meeting the center will get help from the San Jose BioCenter and its director Melinda Richter. The San Jose incubator is "one of the best networked" the center has worked with, said Weingarten. -- Shirley Haley

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