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NIH Tools Engage the Public on T2

NIH Map

For The National Institutes of Health (NIH), technology transfer is more than just the same Cooperative Research and Development Agreements (CRADAs) and licensing inventions that have been done for years. It’s also important to find innovative ways of getting federal research to the public and marketplace—and to let taxpayers know what they’re getting for their investment. The NIH provides a number of powerful tools to accomplish both.

The NIH Office of Technology Transfer (OTT) has been working hard to publicize its efforts in a way that is accessible to the general public—and it’s doing it on a shoestring budget. The OTT works very closely with NIH’s Intramural Research Program in the Institutes and Centers on a number of interactive online resources that present this information in a highly visual manner that catches people’s interest and accommodates how they learn.

These efforts take a four-tiered approach to let the public know:

  • What inventions are currently available for licensing
  • What has been licensed
  • What products are currently under commercial development
  • What products using NIH licensed inventions are available to the public.

“A lot of times, people don’t recognize the fact that there are lots and lots of products using NIH technologies that actually hit the market,” said NIH OTT Deputy Director Bonny Harbinger. Because some biomedical products can take as long as ten years to reach the market, NIH makes a special effort to show the progress of these technologies during what otherwise might look like a gap.

One of these tools is the Product Showcase, which highlights products currently or previously on the market that use technology licensed from NIH. This interactive showcase describes the products, their uses, and the NIH contribution. Another tool is NIH Lights Up the World, an interactive, filterable map that displays NIH technologies licensed worldwide. This fall these two sites will be re-launched as a unified feature, using an open-source content management system that will be faster and more mobile-friendly. A third tool is the Product Development Pipeline, which displays licensed inventions that companies are now moving through clinical development. This tool illustrates the valuable synergy between NIH and industry.

An additional, extraordinary tool is the electronic research materials catalogue (eRMa), which automates the licensing of NIH’s unpatented research material by industry. It functions like an online shopping site for unpatented research materials—people can search for what they need, manage the licensing process, pay through Pay.gov, and optimally receive their order within a few days. These materials could be anything from live mice to cell lines to antibodies to bacteria cultures. Automation makes it an easy, low-effort way to get such things to the public. With respect to the presidential memorandum to streamline technology transfer, eRMa’s release was extremely timely—it cuts the time to send out unpatented materials from months to days. According to Harbinger, “eRMa is the first of its kind in the nonprofit world.”

Looking broadly at all NIH-funded research, this summer NIH launched a new website, Impact of NIH Research, which describes in an easy-to-follow format how much NIH contributes to not just the health of people, but the economy as well. Dr. Sally Rockey, NIH Deputy Director for Extramural Research, wrote in a blog post, “How familiar do you think the average person is with the work done by NIH and NIH-funded researchers? ‘Not very’ is probably the correct answer. This is a concern because we all know that NIH has contributed many important discoveries that lead to better health… We directly fund you to do research, but those dollars also contribute to spinoff growth in your local economy. It has been estimated that every $1 invested results in $2.2 dollars in local economic growth.”

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