Stimulus money at work in labs now

Since signing into law in February, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009’s ~10 billion dollar extra funding to the National Institutes of Health has resulted in funding 2,346 projects (or as supplements) so far. There have been several rounds of additional grant applications including the “Challenge” and the “Grant Opportunity” or GO grants, the funding of which will start in the fall. So, if you think you are seeing the leaves on the tree moving, maybe there is a breeze. Better proof for improvement, at least of the mood, of course would be the fact that your PI’s less stiff-looking face when you put in a request for purchasing reagents.

Buzz has it that right now is the hardest time for a postpoc to move on, even though it does not feel that great staying beyond a typical few years in the current lab either. Remember, job market recovery is a delayed action part of any economic recovery. So hold on tight and look ahead.

Companies in the research supply industry, large or small, are inevitably suffering along side with academic labs as well as the drug-aiming biotech industry and R&D centers of pharmaceuticals. Invitrogen (Life Technologies) let go of people in several rounds already. Specialty companies like Glen Research, leading supplier of oligo chemicals, are also shedding employees, it seems. Allele Biotech has not and is not planning to lay off team members, but we have not been able to replace people who recently left or support part-time employees’ level of work as we wanted to.

The ARRA stimulus money through NIH will be a main life line for many of us doing biomedical research in the next few months to a couple of years, depending on how Wall Street and the capital market shape up. The number of grants and total dollars will increase, however slowly it feels. No time to pop the cord yet but at least you can plan on doing that next experiment to get the paper published sooner rather than later, perhaps buying your genotyping kits and miniprep columns from us!

Don’t overlook the deep meaning of Independence Day. Enjoy the day and celebrate our freedom. Happy Independence Day.

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Friday, July 3rd, 2009 NIH Budget and You No Comments

SBIR Program in Danger of Dissolution

By a process of stealth evasion of detection, a sentence was inserted by yet unknown congress persons, SBIR & STTR were expressly stricken from the NIH portion of the stimulus bill just signed into law by President Obama, effectively removing almost $250 million in SBIR/STTR award funding that is badly needed by hundreds or even thousands of companies.

There has been a sentiment among academic colleagues that removing the SBIR/STTR programs will give 2.5% more money to university labs. That is probably a shared view by most professors; exceptions may include those who also function as PIs on STTR projects (STTR was created to allow for such cases) or consultants on SBIR projects through companies they often co-founded. For graduate students and postdocs, who may agree with such view because they too want more grant money to the labs, it is also important to know that a majority of the students and postdocs will work for SBIR supported or eligible companies. Biotech industry has never been a labor-intensive industry and therefore, even more than the 80% of general US population who are employed by small businesses, workers in this industry are likely to have a small business as their job provider. And there is nothing wrong with that—small companies are still the engine for innovation and model for efficiency and flexibility.

On March 20, just a few weeks from now, the SBIR program may stop to exist if a law that created it is not renewed. There are strong head winds for its renewal from special interest groups that want the money to be spent on large companies or venture-backed companies, because they are in need of cash infusion these days. SBIR is at risk. Considering the thousands upon thousands of layoff by the big pharma players in just the last few weeks, it is not difficult to understand their difficulties. The question is how effective the money can be used to provide jobs and create new areas for development.

If you want to have your voice heard, you can look up your congress representative or senators to tell them what you think. If you are going to do it, do it now.

1. Call your Senators, both their local and DC offices.
2. Call your Representative, both their local and DC offices.
3. Go to their web sites and use the email or webmail links to send them your message.

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What’s In It for Us?

$10 billion will be used to support research projects under the National Institutes of Health over two years, with approximately $1 billion earmarked for cancer research. $7.4 billion will be spent on R01 by the NIH before September 30th, 2010. In the mean time, NSF gets $3 billion for the same period of time.

What do these numbers mean? They would translate into approximately 14,000 RO1 grants at the NIH and nearly double the funding percentage at the NSF. If your lab has grant application(s) that is being hung up on uncertainty, now you have some certainty that they should be funded. If you have been having trouble gathering inner strength to go through the grant writing process, maybe it is time to feel good and potentially rewarding about coming back to the writing table.

Good luck!

P.S. Come back to check Allele Biotech’s new iPS product line, and blogs on induced stem cell research.

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Wednesday, February 18th, 2009 NIH Budget and You No Comments