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The NIH SBIR and STTR programs, and an update on NIDCD’s February advisory council meeting

Four professionals talking over coffee.

February 28, 2023

The NIH Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer Research (STTR) programs—managed together at NIH under an umbrella program known as SEED (Small business Education and Entrepreneurial Development)—empower small businesses and academic innovators to develop and bring to market new technologies that improve health. In this director’s message, I describe these vital NIH programs and NIDCD’s efforts to support research leading to commercialization of novel products and to advances in pharmaceuticals and devices in our mission areas.

I also summarize topics discussed at the February National Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NDCD) Advisory Council Meeting.

The SBIR and STTR Programs: Supporting Innovation to Improve Lives

The SBIR and STTR programs are key parts of NIH’s mission to turn discovery into health. NIH SEED’s mission is to speed the conversion of scientific discoveries into healthcare solutions. SEED aims to spur technological innovation; fulfill federal research and development (R&D) needs; support private sector commercialization of innovations developed through federal R&D funding; and encourage entrepreneurship by underrepresented groups. To accomplish these goals, NIH SEED earmarks more than $1.2 billion annually through the SBIR and STTR programs to support early-stage small business research, including developing innovative products and devices and attracting partners and investors to take an innovation to market.

Small businesses use SBIR/STTR funds in several ways to successfully bring technologies and innovations from bench to market. Some investigators only apply for Phase I R&D funding, while others seek several Phase II awards for additional research and development of multiple products. (The SEED website outlines various funding paths.) Academic innovators may also partner with small businesses to commercialize innovations developed in the lab, thereby making the innovations both profitable and widely available.

Successful SBIR/STTR applicants come from a variety of fields and educational backgrounds (a Ph.D. is not a requirement). To expand participation, NIH provides application guidelines and diversity supplement funding to encourage applications from underrepresented groups, such as economically disadvantaged or women-owned small businesses. NIH also has several programs to assist academic investigators and help innovators commercialize their products and present them to investors. These programs are especially helpful for first-time applicants.

NIDCD is an active participant in these efforts. We allocated more than $16 million in fiscal year 2022 to successful SBIR/STTR grants. Topics covered by this funding are broad and exciting. This year alone, some examples include a proposed mobile hearing test system to expand teleaudiology in underserved communities; wirelessly rechargeable cochlear implant batteries; and digital technology for measuring speech in people with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).

We prioritize applications that offer clear plans to commercialize a novel technology and make it widely available to address pressing needs in our mission areas: hearing, balance, taste, smell, voice, speech, and language.

I encourage academic innovators and small businesses to explore SBIR and STTR funding opportunities on the NIH site and to visit the frequently asked questions page for more information. We explain aspects of NIDCD’s SEED participation on the SBIR/STTR page of our website. If you would like additional guidance on NIDCD’s support of these innovative programs, contact our SBIR/STTR program director, Roger L. Miller, Ph.D.

National Deafness and Other Communication Disorders Advisory Council Meeting, February 2-3

On February 2-3, the institute’s advisory council convened virtually. Portions of our council meetings are open to the public, and I invite you to watch the archived videocasts of the February 2 and February 3 open sessions. I also encourage you to join us online for our next meeting, to be held May 18-19, 2023. A few highlights from February’s meeting are summarized below.

  • I announced a new resource for the research community, Population and Clinical Database Resources for NIDCD Mission Areas. This page on our website lists publicly available research databases in NIDCD’s mission areas. To view this segment, start at the 23:37 mark of the February 2 videocast.
  • I also described the 2023-2027 NIDCD Strategic Plan, which was released in December 2022. The plan, which was developed through a collaborative public process that engaged industry partners, patient and consumer groups, professional organizations, and the scientific community, identifies six high-level scientific themes describing NIDCD’s research priorities over the next five years. To view this segment, start at the 24:33 mark of the February 2 videocast.
  • Roger L. Miller, Ph.D., NIDCD program officer and manager of the SBIR/STTR program, introduced three successful SBIR/STTR grantees supported by NIDCD:
    • David Landsberger, Ph.D., is assistant professor at New York University Langone Health and co-founder of York Sound, a company that developed a noise reduction algorithm for hearing aids and cochlear implants that removes the sound of people talking in the background in group settings. To view this segment, start at the 38:40 mark of the February 2 videocast.
    • Angelique Johnson, Ph.D., is CEO and founder of MEMStim LLC, a company that offers an automated, low-cost manufacturing process for producing bioelectronics, stimulators, and sensors for wearable and implantable applications, including cochlear implants. To view this segment, start at the 53:13 mark of the February 2 videocast.
    • Rupal Patel, Ph.D., is a professor at Northeastern University and CEO and founder of VocaliD, a company that creates unique, natural-sounding digital voices using machine learning and speech blending algorithms for users of augmentative and alternative communication devices. To view this segment, start at the 1:10:04 mark of the February 2 videocast.
  • Cendrine D. Robinson, Ph.D., M.P.H., NIDCD’s chief diversity officer, described the institute’s Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility implementation (DEIA) strategy, which fosters equity in recruitment and advancement; transparency and accountability; and cultural awareness. Dr. Robinson described how these efforts cut across the internal and extramural workforce to influence health equity efforts and provided specific examples of NIDCD’s ongoing DEIA efforts. To view this segment, start at the 01:43 mark of the February 3 videocast.
  • Jon Lorsch, Ph.D., NIGMS director and co-chair of one of 5 core UNITE committees, provided an update on UNITE’s efforts to end structural racism in the extramural research system and at NIH. Examples include enhancing career pathways for underrepresented groups, addressing inequities in the extramural and NIH systems, and providing research resources and enhanced capacity at minority serving institutions. To view this segment, start at the 17:24 mark of the February 3 videocast.
  • Millions of Americans experience hearing loss or balance disorders, often due to inner ear hair cell damage or loss. Katie Kindt, Ph.D., chief of NIDCD’s Section on Sensory Cell Development and Function, discussed research that uses zebrafish models to better understand how sensory hair cells form and function in a living system. To view this segment, start at the 1:09:45 mark of the February 3 videocast.
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