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NIH program fails to launch blacks in biotech

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Science  20 Nov 2015:
Vol. 350, Issue 6263, pp. 896
DOI: 10.1126/science.350.6263.896

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The National Institutes of Health (NIH) gave out three-quarters of a billion dollars this year as part of a long-running federal research program to encourage innovation among small businesses. But for African-American scientists, the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program may as well not exist. A new study by the U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine documents their near-invisibility in the NIH program, which each year gives out hundreds of awards to help small businesses translate biomedical discoveries into products. In a survey of principal investigators (PIs) who received a late-stage SBIR award from NIH between 2001 and 2010, just two of the 604 respondents were African-American. Hispanics did only slightly better, accounting for just 2.0% of these phase II awards, and there was one Native American PI. "Levels of participation by underserved groups are low and declining," the new report concludes.