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NIAAA Promotes Innovation Through Its Small Business Research Program – National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism


The Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) program supports the development and commercialization of innovative tools, technologies, and strategies. The The SBIR / STTR program of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). aims to improve the diagnosis, prevention and treatment, and recovery of alcohol-related problems. The SBIR / STTR program expands the NIAAA research portfolio across a range of basic, translational, and clinical research. This portfolio includes drug development research, alcohol biosensors, screening and diagnostic tools, educational resources, mobile apps and more.

“The SBIR / STTR program, founded by Congress across the federal scale, is an important component of the NIAAA research portfolio with dedicated resources to promote innovative solutions from the lab to primary use,” says NIAAA Director George F. Coab, Ph.D.

What makes the SBIR / STTR program unique?

The SBIR / STTR program is also known as the Foundation of America. It provides support to small businesses at an early stage to meet the country’s research and development needs in a way that stimulates innovation, encourages entrepreneurship and promotes the national economy. In turn, these studies and developments increase the likelihood that state-supported private sector research will be commercialized for the benefit of the American people.

“The SBIR / STTR program provides an incentive for researchers who have innovative ideas and have completed successful R01 grants to try to become entrepreneurs. This eliminates the risk of moving from academia to small business ownership, ”adds Megan Ryan, MBA, who has been the SBIA / STTR NIAAA coordinator since 2016.

The priority of project support is essential for the viability of small businesses at an early stage. For many years, small businesses have enjoyed support under the SBIR / STTR program to promote products that show viability but are considered less of a priority due to limited resources.

An example is the development of Vivitrol, a long-acting injectable form of naltrexone, which was approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the treatment of alcohol-related disorders (AUD) in 2006. Alkermes, at the time a small business biopharmaceutical company in drug delivery technology, was contracted by NIAAA SBIR in 2000 to conduct clinical trials of Vivitrol, confirming the concept and effectiveness. The SBIR Award effectively removed development risk and helped Alkermes take advantage of the award to gain additional financial support and conduct larger-scale clinical trials, ultimately providing the data needed for FDA approval.

Increase the visibility of the NIAAA SBIR / STTR program

In recent years, the NIAAA has focused on improving its SBIR / STTR portfolio. These efforts were mainly aimed at raising awareness of the NIAAA SBIR / STTR program and training entrepreneurs on how to apply for the NIAAA SBIR / STTR award.

To achieve this, Ms. Ryan has partnered with a marketing company specializing in science and health to expand the NIAAA’s coverage of its SBIR / STTR program. Together, they developed new information materials, expanded the NIAAA SBIR / STTR website, and conducted information webinars with small business incubators and a “state biography”. Government biographies are organizations that bring together state biological companies, universities, research institutions, and others involved in promoting the research and commercialization of life sciences. These efforts contributed to a 33 percent increase in the total number of SBIR / STTR applications received by the NIAAA during the year. Despite failures in research common during the COVID-19 pandemic, the NIAAA continues to receive an increasing number of SBIR / STTR applications.

“These results demonstrate the importance of reaching potential applicants who will remain the focus of the NIAAA SBIR / STTR program, which is moving forward,” said Jenica Patterson, PhD, NIAAA SBIR / STTR Program Coordinator.

Priority points of the NIAAA SBIR / STTR program

One of the priorities of the NIAAA SBIR / STTR program is the development of wearable biosensors to detect the amount of alcohol a person has drunk. Researchers are using innovative techniques to improve the accuracy of devices as well as their usability. This work will allow researchers to better measure alcohol consumption in clinical trials and treatment settings.

Another priority is to develop new drugs to treat the effects and conditions associated with alcohol, such as AUD, alcohol-related organ damage (AAOD), alcohol abstinence, and alcohol overdose. Example with an SBIR project supported by the NIAAA, led by Dr. Felix Moser at Synlife Bio, is developing a new therapeutic injection to counteract alcohol overdose. Billions of dollars are spent annually on the treatment of alcohol overdoses, many of which lead to death, but there are no FDA-approved pharmacological treatments. The NIAAA’s commitment to developing new drugs is highlighted in a recent SBIR / STTR funding announcementand is an important step in bridging the gap between basic research and clinical trials.

Improving diagnostics for AAOD is another area of ​​interest for the NIAAA SBIR / STTR program. For example, InLighta BioSciences, founded by Dr. Jenny Young, has developed a new contrast agent for magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), which greatly improves the diagnostic capabilities of diseases such as liver disease. Unlike traditional contrast agents, it is non-toxic and can detect early stages of the disease. From the beginning, this technology was ready to provide a non-invasive tool for early diagnosis of liver disease-a disease in which alcohol abuse is a major risk factor. In the United States, nearly half of all deaths from liver disease are related to alcohol abuse.

The NIAAA SBIR / STTR program also supports the development of alcohol prevention programs, educational services, behavioral treatment programs, and digital health technologies. У one NIAAA-supported clinical trial, DynamiCare Health is testing a smartphone-based digital coaching program to support affordable and affordable long-term recovery after AUD. The program is based on behavioral techniques such as emergency management, recovery training, and cognitive-behavioral therapy.

Learn more

For more information on the NIAAA SBIR / STTR program, visit the NIAAA SBIR / STTR website.

NIAAA SBIR / STTR program. Available at https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/research/niaaa-sbir. Retrieved March 16, 2022.

NIH. Liposomal enzyme system to remove ethanol from the blood. Available at https://reporter.nih.gov/search/0u4ykZHaOkmWs3KG7egLHQ/project-details/10139179. Retrieved March 16, 2022.

NIH. Investigation of new drugs (IND) and development of early-stage drugs to treat alcohol-related disorders and alcohol-related organ damage (optional clinical trial U43 / U44). Available at https://grants.nih.gov/grants/guide/pa-files/PAR-22-102.html. Retrieved March 16, 2022.

Salaryan, M; Xue, S .; Ibhagui, OY; and Yang, JJ Develop Calcium-Binding Proteins for Molecular MRI Imaging. Methods in Molecular Biology. 2019; 1929: 111–125. PMID: 30710270

NIH. Detection and stage of liver fibrosis by accurate MRI (pMRI). Available at https://reporter.nih.gov/search/-YBPOqtaA02LYdGGS9qccw/project-details/9971410. Retrieved May 2, 2022.

National Medical Library. CM technical support for AUD in Scale at Medicaid. Available at https://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/NCT04581499. Retrieved March 16, 2022.

This article first appeared in NIAAA Spectrum.

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