NIH Is Supporting Entrepreneurs To Address The Looming Public Health Crisis: Life Science Nation Interview with Todd Haim, Ph.D., Chief, Office of Small Business Research, National Institute on Aging, National Institutes of Health

27 Feb

Todd Haim

– By Dennis Ford, Founder & CEO, Life Science Nation; Creator of RESI Conference Series

Dennis Ford

Dennis Ford(DF): Todd, please tell us about your new position and what you are trying to accomplish?

Todd Haim(TH): I began working on small business grant programs at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) more than 10 years ago when I joined the National Cancer Institute (NCI) as an AAAS Science and Technology Policy Fellow. After 9 years at NCI, I was asked to lead the launch of a new Office of Small Business Research (OSBR) at the National Institute on Aging (NIA). NIA’s OSBR was created just over 1 year ago. It serves as the main coordinating office for Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) grants that are awarded to companies working on solutions to address aging and aging-related diseases.

One exciting aspect of our work at NIA is that the Institute does not have a singular disease focus; rather, we are interested in wide variety of new technologies related to aging and older adults. OSBR’s key goals include strategic coordination of the SBIR/STTR programs across NIA’s Scientific Divisions and connecting with small businesses across the U.S. interested in NIA funding to develop promising innovative technologies. We are also responsible for developing programs and resources to enhance the success of our awardees and funding projects in areas that both meet NIA’s scientific priorities and are ripe for commercialization.

Although OSBR’s overall goal is to fund innovative new technologies that will improve health and quality of life in our rapidly aging population, we also hope to raise awareness of the small business programs among first-time applicants and individuals who would not typically apply for NIH funding.

DF: What kind of funding is available to scientist-entrepreneurs through your new office?

TH: Most small businesses interested in improving the health of older Americans can find a funding opportunity from NIA that’s right for them. Through OSBR, NIA participates in several funding opportunity announcements (FOAs) that fall into two general categories: omnibus and targeted solicitations. Almost all NIH Institutes and Centers (ICs) as well as other government agencies within the Department of Health and Human Services (e.g., Food and Drug Administration, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, etc.) participate in the annual  Omnibus FOA, and applications are accepted three times per year. This FOA does not focus on a single disease area, rather, it focuses on any health-related small business innovation of interest to these agencies. If a proposal submitted through the omnibus FOA relates to NIA’s mission, it may be considered for assignment to NIA.

In contrast, NIA’s targeted small business FOAs are specifically focused on aging and related diseases including Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and AD-related dementias (ADRD). In July 2019, NIA released a broad funding opportunity to encourage applications for the development of technologies addressing AD/ADRD.

We also offer programs designed to provide additional funding and technical/business assistance to our funded companies and potential applicants. One example is I-Corps™ at NIH, which provides entrepreneurial training, mentoring, networking, and market research. The Concept to Clinic: Commercializing Innovation (C3i) entrepreneurial training program is designed for medical device innovators. And the Applicant Assistance Program provides first-time or previously unsuccessful SBIR/STTR applicants with a dedicated mentor and step-by-step coaching to maximize their chances of obtaining funding. Finally, the Commercial Readiness Pilot Program, provides technical and R&D assistance to businesses at a later stage in their development.

DF: Who are you seeking? Is there a particular indication you are currently looking to fund or are you opportunistic in the arena of aging?

TH: One area of particular focus for NIA, and the nation, is Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias. Because the prevalence of AD is predicted to triple within the next 3 decades, Congress has provided significant AD/ADRD funding that has enabled NIA to fund a greater diversity and variety of projects in this area to advance research into a treatment, prevention, or cure for these devastating disorders. NIA also welcomes grant proposals for technologies and innovations in the broader scientific areas around aging, such as fall detection, biomarkers, interventions to help older people maintain independence, research to understand the mechanisms of aging, and methodologies to treat conditions commonly associated with aging.

DF: Have you evaluated and funded any startups to date? If so, how many? Are there funds remaining?

TH: Currently, NIA is funding close to 200 unique startup companies through the SBIR/STTR programs; details are available in the NIH RePORTER database. As the overall NIA budget has increased over the past few years, the SBIR/STTR budget for NIA has also increased. For instance, the NIA SBIR/STTR budget in fiscal year (FY) 2013 was only $27.5 million. In FY 2019, that number was estimated to be over $100 million, which is nearly a four-fold increase over a 6-year period.

NIA has a diverse portfolio of funded technologies. Approximately 32% of our funded technologies are drugs/therapeutics, but we also fund medical devices, including monitoring (18%) and supportive (10%) technologies. Digital and mobile health applications (19%) are also growing in utility, so we are seeing more applications in this field. The remainder of our portfolio consists of research tools (9%), in vitro diagnostic tools (7%), and imaging tools (5%). However, the proportions of each type of technology in our portfolio fluctuate over time based on the applications submitted during each funding cycle.

DF: Do you have a message for any of the U.S. companies developing solutions within the aging arena?

TH: One of the key goals that NIA’s OSBR is trying to achieve is to not only target academic scientists-turned-entrepreneurs, but also small business owners who are less familiar the NIH grants process. Though we are facing a lack of awareness of our programs by this group, many of their technologies are still supporting the NIH mission.

I would like entrepreneurs in the aging sphere to know that they have my highest respect and admiration because they are working to address a looming public health crisis. The difficulties that the biomedical enterprise has had in successfully targeting aging and AD point to the importance of NIH’s efforts to fund early-stage, meritorious projects being undertaken by startups and translational researchers. At NIH, it is our mission to invest in research and innovation that will ultimately benefit the health of everyone, and we encourage all eligible businesses developing aging-related technologies to apply for our small business grants. You are doing incredible work, and we are here to support you every step of the way. We encourage potential applicants to connect and seek guidance from us ahead of submitting an application and can be reached at

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