PAN CEO, Amy Comstock Rick, Testifies on Capitol Hill in Support of Small Business

March 2011 Monthly Message

- April is Parkinson's Awareness Month
- PAN CEO, Amy Comstock Rick, Testifies on Capitol Hill in Support of Small Business
- Update from Merck About Sinemet
- 2011 PAN Forum: Making Our Voices Heard in Congress
- National Neurological Diseases Surveillance System Act Will Create Parkinson's and Multiple Sclerosis Disease Registries
- SAVE THE DATE – 2011 Morris K. Udall Awards Dinner
- Medtronic Global Heroes Seek Marathon Runners
- Parkinson's in the Media

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Small businesses in America employ more than half of all private-sector employees, and create two-thirds of all new jobs.  They’re also critical in the fight to find a cure for Parkinson’s disease, according to Parkinson’s Action Network (PAN) CEO Amy Comstock Rick, who testified before the U.S. House Small Business Committee in support of the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program.

The hearing, held on March 16th in the Rayburn House Office Building, was called “Spurring Innovation and Job Creation: The SBIR Program” and also included the testimony of Tom Tullie, CEO of EcoATM; Indiana University’s Dr. David B. Audretsch; and, Mike Squillante, Chairman of the Small Business Technology Council and Vice President at Radiation Monitoring Devices, Inc.  It marked the beginning of the Committee’s work to reauthorize the SBIR program, which was last fully reauthorized in 2000, and is expected to be reauthorized this year.

The U.S. Small Business Administration’s SBIR program was created in 1982 to ensure the nation's small, innovative businesses are a significant part of the federal government's research and development efforts. Eleven government agencies administer SBIR grants to support entrepreneurs’ efforts in helping grow our economy and create jobs.  PAN was asked to testify on behalf of the larger patient advocacy community because small businesses play a key role in translational research, and bringing therapies to market more quickly – something PAN and many other groups support.  In FY2010, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) awarded $616 million in SBIR grants to hundreds of small businesses across the country to help bridge the divide between a basic discovery and the hard work of testing that discovery for its therapeutic potential. 

One of those grants went to Titan Pharmaceuticals (South San Francisco, CA) to support the development of a long-term, non-fluctuating dopamine agonist treatment for Parkinson's disease.  Titan’s $300,000 grant covers all the external expenses for the initial evaluation of the non-clinical safety and efficacy of implant formulations of select dopamine agonists that are currently marketed for the treatment of Parkinson’s.  They estimate these studies will take approximately two years to complete, and the data will provide a basis for further development of potential product candidates that may alleviate the 'on/off' motor fluctuations and treatment-related dyskinesias associated with current dopamine-replacement treatment regimens.

Why is this kind of federal funding important?  In recent years, there has been a dramatic and harmful shift away from private investment in biomedical research because of its long timeline and high-risk return on investment.  Steady, supportive federal funding fills a need that is growing even more dire.  During her testimony Rick said, “You have to look at SBIR from the patient perspective, because this program is not just about funding.  It’s about pursuing possible treatments for many diseases and the all the societal benefits, including economic, that come with that.”

Reaffirming the notion that we need to be funding the best science, Rick also called for majority venture capital-supported small businesses to be eligible for a portion of SBIR grants.  Currently, they are not.  Rick said, “[These companies] have attracted venture capital money, even in this very challenging financial climate.  So, the very companies that are doing a good job are, because of their success, barred from federal support of other research.  This policy doesn’t just penalize companies, it penalizes patients.”

Committee Chairman Sam Graves (R-MO) shared a report of nearly 60,000 new full-time jobs created as a result of SBIR funding, and asserted the Committee’s commitment to helping found new companies, provide partnering and networking opportunities, as well as the impetus to fund projects that might not otherwise get off the ground.

The Senate is currently debating the reauthorization of the SBIR program (S. 493) and expects to turn it over to the House in April for discussion and debate.  Both houses of Congress expect full reauthorization by May 31, 2011.

Addendum: Amy Comstock Rick’s testimony is included below, as is the briefing memo issued by the U.S. House Small Business Committee Chairman, Rep. Sam Graves.

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[Amy Comstock Rick testimony PDF]

[Rep. Graves memo PDF]