Nexus December 2012
Dr. Sally Rockey

Rock Talk

Supporting Small Business Across the Country

While most of the conversation here on Rock Talk, particularly in the comments, is about research at academic institutions and non-profit organizations, NIH also funds researchers at small businesses. The Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program was established by Congress in 1982 — all Federal agencies with extramural research and development (R&D) budgets that exceed $100 million are required to allocate a percentage of their R&D budget to the program. In 1992 Congress established another program to support small businesses and commercialization of federally funded research. This program, the Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) program, requires small businesses to formally partner with research institutions on their proposed research project. Federal agencies with extramural R&D budgets over $1 billion participate in the STTR program to support small businesses and to bridge the gap between federally funded research and the commercialization of the innovative technologies that grow out of basic science.

In late 2011, Congress reauthorized both SBIR and STTR programs through fiscal year (FY) 2017, and all SBIR/STTR agencies are currently discussing the details of implementing this legislation.

Here at NIH, we have always prioritized outreach about our SBIR/STTR programs to all states. My staff and I were curious how well NIH SBIR/STTR funding is distributed, and we wanted to share with you what we found when we looked state-by-state at SBIR/STTR award dollars across the United States from FY2007 to FY2011. The results are presented as a heat map in figure 1, below. Since highly populated states are likely to receive more funding, we normalized by population, and the map shows award dollars per person by state.

SBIR Heat Map FY2007-2011, per person by stateAs you can see, while some states stand out as having more SBIR/STTR funding per person and form hubs of small biotech enterprises, SBIR/STTR funding is more or less evenly distributed across the country. California and Massachusetts are known as large biotech hubs, but Massachusetts in particular is especially prominent in the map, due to its relatively small population in comparison to California (approximately 6.6 million versus 37.7 million, according to 2011 US Census estimates).

Even correcting for population, we have a congressional mandate to increase funding in states receiving less R&D funding for small businesses, and we will continue our outreach efforts – not just increasing the quantity, but improving the quality of applications received by our SBIR/STTR program.

Whether it’s research by entrepreneurs or academics, NIH values the contributions of all of the research community – it’s good to see we’re supporting research in every state, but we will continue to work even harder to promote scientific research all across the nation.

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Following Up On ACD Recommendations, and Paving the Road to Continued, Future Success

At the Advisory Committee to the Director’s meeting today and yesterday, NIH director Francis Collins, NIH deputy director Lawrence Tabak, and I presented some exciting new initiatives in support of the future of biomedical research.

As I’ve blogged about before, the Advisory Committee to the Director (ACD) formed three working groups to address three important topics in science — harnessing the power of biomedical data and informatics, achieving diversity in the biomedical research workforce, and developing a competitive and sustainable biomedical research workforce. In June, these working groups presented their recommendations, and at the ACD meeting yesterday and this morning, we proposed how NIH would implement them.

Two new initiatives would support the management, analysis and integration of large-scale data and informatics. The Big Data to Knowledge (BD2K) initiative seeks to facilitate broad use of biomedical big data through new data sharing policies, catalogs of datasets, and enhanced training for early career scientists entering the new world of big data.  The NIH InfrastructurePlus initiative will advance high-performance computing, agile hosting and data storage, and modernization of the NIH network, among other approaches.

In response to the diversity working group recommendations, NIH proposed launching several initiatives to meet the great and important challenge of increasing diversity in the biomedical workforce. Two of the programs focus on enhancing mentoring. For example, a new NIH program called BUilding Infrastructure Leading to Diversity (BUILD) provides rigorous mentored research experiences for undergraduate students, resources to help faculty train highly effective mentors, and more. NIH also proposed establishing the National Research Mentoring Network to connect students, postdoctoral fellows, and faculty with experienced mentors — in-person and virtually — as well as provide relevant workshops and training opportunities in grantsmanship. The BUILD program and NRMN will form a consortium to link trainees and investigators from groups that have been underrepresented in science to majority investigators.

In addition to these programs, NIH would test multiple interventions to assess and mitigate the effects of implicit bias in peer review, including diversity awareness training for both scientific review officers and members of review panels.

To spearhead these efforts, NIH would recruit a chief diversity officer to not only coordinate diversity initiatives, but to oversee a rigorous prospective evaluation of existing extramural and intramural diversity programs, and join NIH’s intramural program as a practicing scientist.

Finally, as co-chair of the working group on the biomedical research workforce, I’m excited to share how NIH plans to support this critical component of the biomedical research enterprise, and improve the training experience of graduate students and postdocs alike. We intend to launch a program to support innovative approaches that expand and complement existing research training to include science-related career outcomes, and also encourage the adoption of individual development plans for all trainees. NIH plans to increase the funding of awards that encourage independence like the K99/R00 and early independence awards, and increase the initial postdoctoral researcher stipend. NIH also intends to embark on novel ways of improving the trainee experience, such as looking more closely at, and soliciting community feedback on, postdocs’ access to workplace benefits.

Additionally, NIH plans to expand our ongoing assessments of the biomedical research workforce, including conducting a follow-up study on clinician scientists, and developing a simple and comprehensive tracking system for trainees. Collecting this data will not only help us with evaluating NIH’s current workforce initiatives and planning our future efforts, but also provides valuable data for those considering careers in biomedical research.

These are all ambitious initiatives which will take some time to refine and implement. As they unfold, I will continue to discuss their details here and in other forums. It’s very satisfying to see how the past two years of work is coming to fruition. I think we’re headed in the right direction, and I am looking forward to your feedback.

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New Resources

Training on Electronic Submission of Multi-Project Applications Now Online

NIH has posted its first pilot funding opportunity announcements (FOAs) that require applicants to submit using ASSIST (Application Submission System and Interface for Submission Tracking). You can find the pilot opportunities posted on this timeline, and read the Rock Talk blog post about our transition to electronic submission of multi-project grant applications to learn more.

In addition to the resources presented on the grants.nih.gov website for electronic submission of multi-project applications, NIH’s Office of Extramural Research (OER) hosted a webinar for those interested learning how to develop, submit, and track a multi-project application on-line using the new ASSIST tool. A recording of this webinar is now available for viewing online. Note that we expect to use feedback from the pilot to improve the system, and will be hosting another webinar early this summer to prepare applicants for the September 25, 2013 deadlines for electronic submission of P01, P20, R24, U24, P50 and U19 applications.

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You Ask, We Answer

How Can Applicants Track Submission of Reference Letters?

The applicant is responsible for tracking his or her reference letters or reference forms in the eRA Commons and contacting referees to ensure that the letters or forms are submitted and matched to the application by the application due date.

The applicant can track the status of reference letters or reference forms submitted by his or her referees by logging into his or her Commons account, clicking the Personal Profile tab and clicking on the Reference Letters tab on the second header row. While the applicant is able to track the status of the letters or forms, he or she will not be able to see the letters or forms themselves due to the confidentiality of their contents.

The applicant also can track the status of reference letters submitted to a specific application by clicking on the application ID number (once a number has been assigned) in Commons. Reference letter information is visible to the PD/PI, PD/PI’s assistant(s) (ASSTs) and signing officials.

Read more FAQs on reference letters.

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Calendar

January 15, 2013: Webinar Explains Changes and Implications of the NIH Public Access Policy Updates

Since 2008, compliance to the NIH public access policy is a statutory requirement and a term and condition of all grant awards and cooperative agreements. Recently, NIH announced upcoming changes to public access policy reporting requirements and related NIH efforts to enhance compliance.

To help grantee institutions improve their understanding of the public access policy, NIH will host an online training webinar on Tuesday, January 15, 2013, at 12:30 p.m. Eastern Standard Time. This webinar is designed for compliance officials at grantee institutions, though authors and investigators are welcome to attend. Presenters will talk about the policy changes and discuss resources and web tools that NIH has made available to help track compliance, such as MyNCBI and the Public Access Compliance Monitor. For more information and to register for the training, visit the webinar website. A recording of the webinar will be posted on this page for later viewing, as well.

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January 21 (Monday), 2013 NIH Closed: Federal Holiday

NIH (including help desks) will be closed January 21 (Monday), 2013.

If a standard postmark/submission date falls on this federal holiday, the application deadline is automatically extended to the next business day.

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