BIO Asks Congress to Clarify SBIR Grant Eligibility
WASHINGTON, D.C. (Thursday, March 13, 2008) - Congress should clarify eligibility for Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grants to allow more small biotechnology start-ups to compete for these funds and continue critical research and product development, Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) President and CEO Jim Greenwood told the House Small Business Committee today.
In testimony before the Committee, Greenwood said that many small majority venture-backed biotech companies are ineligible to compete for SBIR grants because of a rule change in 2003. The ruling has made more than half of all small private U.S. biotech companies ineligible for grants to fund research that could lead to life-enhancing and life-saving therapies.
“There are thousands of small companies pursuing innovations that can improve human health, expand our food supply, and provide new sources of energy,” said Greenwood. “They may have no income, but they have tremendous potential – and are precisely the kinds of efforts the SBIR program was intended to foster.
“Excluding these biotech companies from the SBIR program creates a less competitive system and is preventing the best science and innovation from being funded by American taxpayers.”
As a result of the Small Business Administration (SBA)’s reinterpretation of the program’s eligibility requirements in 2003, the applicant pool at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for SBIR grants has been shrinking and work on life-saving and life-enhancing technology is being postponed. For example, when they became ineligible for SBIR grants, several small biotech firms stopped their work aimed at developing new treatments for cancer and cystic fibrosis.
Two years later, NIH Director Elias A. Zerhouni, M.D. told the SBA that limits on SBIR eligibility, “unduly restricts the ability of the NIH to fund high quality, small companies.” He expressed concern that the eligibility requirement “undermines NIH’s ability to award SBIR funds to those applicants whom we believe are most likely to improve human health.”
Patient advocacy groups also have expressed concern about the eligibility restrictions. Sixty patient groups sent a letter to leaders of the 109th Congress in support of the Save America’s Biotechnology Innovative Research (SABIR) Act which would have allowed majority venture-backed biotech companies to compete for SBIR grants. In the letter, they asked Congress to “help innovative research move forward in order to foster breakthrough cures.
See BIO’s web site and SBIR blog at www.hopesandcures.org
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BIO represents more than 1,150 biotechnology companies, academic institutions, state biotechnology centers and related organizations across the United States and in more than 30 other nations. BIO members are involved in the research and development of innovative healthcare, agricultural, industrial and environmental biotechnology technologies. BIO also produces the annual BIO International Convention, the world’s largest gathering of the biotechnology industry, along with industry-leading investor and partnering meetings held around the world.