National Cancer Institute pays small business for breakthrough cancer ideas

Thursday - 9/29/2011, 9:14am EDT

Michael Weingarten, director of the SBIR development center, National Cancer Institute

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Smart, innovative people can be super-competitive — and that's just what the National Cancer Institute is counting on.

NCI recently announced millions in new grants through the Small Business Innovative Research grants to award to businesses with the best cancer treatment ideas.

Michael Weingarten, the director of the SBIR development center at the National Cancer Institute, joined the Federal Drive with Tom Temin and Amy Morris to explain how the program got started and why it's so important now.

The program was set up by Congress about 25 years ago, Weingarten said, with a goal of stimulating small business to develop new technologies for projects across the government.

NCI's grant program is specifically focused on cancer research — from new diagnostic methods to new treatments, he added.

Overall, the program offers grants for 12 different areas, that are "ripe for commercial investment."

"The whole goal is to develop new technologies that can be delivered to patients and improve cancer treatments and cancer care for patients down the road," Weingarten said.

But why, specifically, small business?

"Small businesses are really the big generators of new jobs, but they also tend to be where innovation comes from in a lot of cases," Weingarten said.

Weingarten said much of NCI's funding goes to academic institutions working on cancer research. But there is also great potential in moving innovative research into small businesses as "a vehicle to help move these technologies forward and move them toward commercialization," he added. "Ultimately, the way new types of therapies, new types of treatments make their way out to patients, is if you can commercialize them."

The program offers grants for 12 different areas, representing "technology areas that both meet the scientific priorities of the NCI and are ripe for commercial investment and integration," the institute said.