Federal investment in biomedical research is driven by the hope that the work ultimately will benefit the public directly through the creation of new products and services. Yet as scientists often discover, there are scarce resources for funding the kinds of proof-of-principle experiments needed to demonstrate that a laboratory finding has the potential to be translated into a drug or other beneficial technology.
A researcher can apply for a grant from the National Institutes of Health to fund basic discovery work, and a demonstrably viable treatment or diagnostic test might attract commercial investment. However, there are few established funding mechanisms for the important in-between stages of product development, said Spencer Lemons, vice president for the Industry Relations and Technology Transfer Department.
Six grants to date
"We'd like to be able to provide our researchers whose discoveries have commercial applications with the financial support to explore that potential,"he said. "The New Technology Development Fund (NTDF) exists to fill that funding gap."
Since 2000, the NTDF — seeded with generous gifts from the Washington Research Foundation and multiple private investors — has provided six Center grants for short-term support of projects with potential public benefit and commercial value. The committee that oversees the fund, which includes faculty members from each of the scientific research divisions, is currently accepting applications from any Center investigator with a project that meets the fund's criteria.
"Ideally, we're interested in projects far enough along that they would require about a year of funding to demonstrate proof of principle,"said Dr. Stan Riddell, a member of the Clinical Research Division and chair of the committee. However, the committee weighs a variety of factors in making their decision.
NTDF funding allowed Dr. David Hockenbery, a member of the Clinical Research Division, to acquire crucial data on a chemical compound that his laboratory found targeted an important cancer-protein target. This allowed him to test proof of principle in animals. Following the outcome of his experiments, NTDF funding also made it possible for him to initiate a collaborative program with a small biotechnology company to identify optimized drug candidates related to his lab's initial discoveries. Hockenbery said the flexibility of the support allows investigators to take a discovery to a "go/no-go decision."
"NTDF support has allowed us to see whether we've developed something viable as a commercial product,"he said.
Another project supported by the NTDF includes Dr. Mark Roth's development of a diagnostic test for the autoimmune disease lupus, which received market clearance by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2002.
Committee seeks private investors
The NTDF is solely supported by private donations. Although a limited pool of funding is available now, the Hutchinson Center is actively seeking additional investors to continually replenish this important source of research funding.
Hutchinson Center faculty members or staff scientists/postdoctoral fellows with letters of support from their principal investigators may apply for short-term support from the New Technology Development Fund. Applications may be submitted at any time but must be received two weeks prior to a committee meeting to be reviewed at that meeting. The next committee meeting is scheduled for April 12, with applications due no later than March 31. Applicants will be notified of decisions by the committee chair.
Applicants will be required to provide a description of the commercial potential or public benefit of their technology, preliminary results, a brief proposal of proof-of-principle experiments to be conducted, a timeline and a budget.
Consideration will be given to:
Applications can be obtained from and submitted to Rose Beer, senior licensing associate, mailstop J5-110.
For more information, contact Beer at firstname.lastname@example.org or (206) 667-6309.