By Professor Brenda K. Wiederhold
Last year, a grant-writer colleague reported that due to stiff competition, funding rates for U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grants had declined for four straight years, from 2008 through 2011, with 2012 funded grants vs. applications expected to be in the single-digit percentages for the first time. Applications are up, absolute funding dollars are down as are the numbers of grants funded. And this was before the advent of sequestration, which brings even more trouble for SBIR funding. Although NIH SBIRs were cut less than Department of Defense SBIRs in 2013, funding was still down 2.7% to $697 million.
The European Union appears ready to outshine its rival across the pond when it comes to funding women and small and medium enterprises (SMEs) that invest in health technology. As noted in the interview with Neelie Kroes in this issue, the Digital Agenda for Europe supports research. Of interest in that document to our readers are:
- Key Action 9, which includes “‘light and fast’ access to EU research funds in ICT [Information and Communications Technology], making them more attractive notably to SMEs ….”
- Key Action 11, featuring “higher participation of young women and women returners in the ICT workforce through support for web-based training resources, game based eLearning and social networking.”
Another guiding European Commission (EC) document referenced by Vice-President Kroes is the eHealth Action Plan 2012 – 2020, which outlines the vision for eHealth in Europe in line with the Digital Agenda and the Europe 2020 Strategy. Among the action plans are two of special interest:
- 5.2. Fostering the development of a competitive eHealth market, including EC support of “SME networking,” “networking of European high technology incubators,” and “actions to improve the market conditions for entrepreneurs developing products and services in the fields of eHealth and ICT for wellbeing.”
- 6.2. Cohesion policy, featuring support of “ICT applications and services for citizens and SMEs,” “integrated health and social care,” and “eHealth for active and healthy ageing.” The health work program referenced by the Commissioner for Horizon 2020 is not yet finalized at the time this issue went to print, but a look at the preliminary priorities shows the EC “putting its money where its mouth is” in terms of actual funding available to SMEs, including one priority specifically targeted to SMEs:
- PHC 10 – 2014: Development of new diagnostic tools and technologies: in vitro devices, assays and platforms, and PHC 11 – 2015: Development of new diagnostic tools and technologies: in vivo medical imaging technologies – expected impact for these two priories includes “growth of the European diagnostics sector, in particular for SMEs.”
- PHC 12 – 2014/2015: Clinical validation of biomarkers and/or diagnostic medical devices – this is the specific SME instrument with 100% funding, which “consists of three separate phases and a coaching and mentoring service for beneficiaries. Participants can apply to Phase 1 with a view to applying to Phase 2 at a later date, or directly to Phase 2.” This is similar in structure to an NIH SBIR grant.
- PHC 32 – 2014: Advancing bioinformatics to meet biomedical and clinical needs – expected impact includes “Increased research and innovation opportunities in this SME-intensive field.”
- PHC 33 – 2015: New approaches to improve predictive human safety testing – specifies that “Proposals should involve, amongst others, the research communities, SMEs, industry and regulatory agencies as appropriate ….”
While the eurozone continues to recover, growth may struggle to top 1% next year, according to economists. Therefore, we are grateful to the EC for its forward-thinking recognition that investment in technology-trained women and in SMEs pays off in accelerating the growth of nations.
Create your own reality! Brenda Wiederhold
President of Virtual Reality Medical Institute (VRMI) in Brussels, Belgium. Executive VP Virtual Reality Medical Center (VRMC), based in San Diego and Los Angeles, California. CEO of Interactive Media Institute a 501c3 non-profit Clinical Instructor in Department of Psychiatry at UCSD Founder of CyberPsychology, CyberTherapy, & Social Networking Conference Visiting Professor at Catholic University Milan.