The contribution of NIH grants, including small business innovation research (SBIR) awards, to medical advancements, is undisputed and cannot go unnoticed. In a broader sense, writing NIH SBIR and academic research grants have been on the frontline in funding research to battle diseases, across all medical disciplines. Disease severity and mortality of illnesses such as heart diseases, cancer, diabetes, and mental illnesses has greatly decreased over the past 50 years, as have death rates from injuries and infectious diseases.
NIH grants are primarily pursued by academic scientists across the United States, as well as hospitals and nonprofit research organizations. However, while some pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies put forth considerable effort to finance their own research and product development, many small businesses (i.e., “start-ups”) take advantage of NIH SBIR grants.
Nationally, small private firms are now tapping into this source of financing for research projects and ideas they could not otherwise afford. NIH grants add credibility to research projects and innovations that companies develop out of the funding. For this reason, research proposals and innovations funded by the NIH SBIR mechanism tend to raise the profile of the grant-awarded company.
To this end, Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) and Small Business Innovative Research (SBIR) grant programs promote the development of new innovative technology into commercial products. Moreover, these grants are only awarded to for-profit small businesses. Each year, the NIH awards more than $100M in STTR and SBIR grants to support biomedical R&D in the private sector (1).
Actuated Medical, an NIH/SBIR funding success story.
One such private firm that has benefited from STTR and SBIR grants is Actuated Medical (2), a company founded in 2006 by Maureen Mulvihill, a material scientist, in Bellefonte, PA. Specifically, Actuated Medical focuses on developing innovations that use motion technology to improve the efficiency of medical devices.
For years, the company has been developing innovative, minimally invasive devices and instruments for penetrating tissue and bone, clearing occlusions, and supporting MRI-guided surgical procedures. The company has received several SBIR grants that have helped it develop commercially viable products, and push them to market.
In particular, SBIR funding has helped the company expand their line of offerings, focusing on creating their own products, rather than contract research for other companies. SBIR-funded projects have, to date, resulted in 10 patents, including 5 on occlusion clearing and 5 on tissue penetration. These have also significantly boosted the profile and valuation of the company.
Of note, two of the company’s highlight SBIR-funded products include TubeClear (3) and GentleSharp (4).
• TubeClear®: This was the first product the company launched after receiving SBIR funding. This innovative device uses mechanical motion technology to clear blocked decompression and feeding tubes, while the tubes remain in-patient. This technology has helped reduce the risks and expenses associated with tube replacement, since clogged tubes increase risk of infection, and can cause patients to go without medication and food for hours, even days.
• GentleSharp®: This is another SBIR-funded product that has reached market commercialization. It is essentially a more humane blood sampling kit for animal research. This device utilizes low–frequency microvibrations that help needles glide smoothly into tissue, requiring less force, thus reducing stress when taking blood samples. Overall, this device results in greater blood volume, decreased needle insertions, and increased sampling success.
Of course, this is just one of hundreds of success stories that stem from NIH SBIR/ STTR funding in the private, for-profit sector. While NIH funding has traditionally been pursued by academic and non-profit organizations, firms like Actuated Medical are now tapping into this funding resource to develop innovative, commercially viable, medical and biotechnological products.
But how do such “ordinary” firms navigate the world of extremely competitive and diminishing NIH SBIR/ STTR funds? Well, the secret lies within their NIH grant proposal applications.
NIH grant proposal writing –what you need to know
If you have done basic research on NIH grants trends, you know that these funds are extremely competitive. This is primarily because the number of applicants is increasing significantly each year, while the funds available have not mirrored this change in demand. Additionally, competitive markets and low acceptance rate have also made it difficult for scientists, innovators, and researchers to successfully apply for NIH Grants.
Firms like Actuated Medical have therefore relied on coming up with innovative ideas and incorporating these into outstanding grant proposals that are favorably reviewed by NIH grant review panels. But what happens if you have a great idea, but lack sufficient experience, information, or the time needed to piece together a compelling proposal?
Well, thankfully, there is a solution for that, and if you’ve found yourself in this situation, you can always seek the help of a professional grant-writing expert. They will help you polish and solidify your research idea, research the necessary information, and put together an outstanding, objective proposal. If you’re not sure which NIH/SBIR grant opportunities are currently available, you can do search NIH grant opportunities here (5).