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NIDA

NIDA Challenges Program

Revised December 2018

What is a Challenge/Prize?

  • Challenges are an appeal to a diverse array of potential ‘solvers’ to provide a solution for a particular goal.
  • Typically, Challenges are ‘crowdsourced’ to a large group of people, commonly via the internet, to obtain a needed service, idea, concept, product, etc. from sources non-traditional sources.
  • Prizes – monetary and/or non-monetary – often accompany challenges.
  • Challenges/prizes are an alternative funding mechanism to contracts or grants.
  • Challenges are specific, detailed, and actionable. They need to be formulated, posted to a wide-audience, tracked, judged and awarded.

Related Links

Current Challenges

Past Challenges

Past Challenge: 2017 - $100,000 for Start a SUD Startup

Summary:

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), one of the components of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), announces the “$100,000 for Start a SUD Startup” Challenge. The Challenge goal is to support research ideas that would further an understanding of neurobiology as it relates to Substance Use Disorders (SUD) and that are intended to be the basis for the development of a new and potentially successful start-up. NIDA hopes that participation in the contest will enable scientists to test the hypothesis that their research idea can be fostered into a biotech startup, and that eventually any newly created startups will contribute to the pool of innovative small business companies that can successfully compete for NIDA’s Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) funding.

The Challenge will offer up to ten awards of $10,000 each and provide mentorship support from NIDA entrepreneurship experts. The Challenge total purse is up to $100,000.

Dates:

Submission Period: June 5, 2017 to December 8, 2017, 5:00 p.m., ET.
Judging Period: December 8, 2017 to January 19, 2018
Winners Announced: January 24, 2018

Subject of Challenge  

This challenge is a competition for biomedical scientists with the goal to support research ideas that would further an understanding of neurobiology as it relates to SUD and that are intended to be the basis for the development of a new and potentially successful start-up. NIDA hopes that participation in the contest will enable scientists to test whether their research ideas can be fostered into a biotech startup. “$100,000 for Start a SUD Startup” Challenge offers up to ten awards of $10,000 each and provide mentorship support from NIDA entrepreneurship experts.

Are you a biomedical scientist who believes that he/she has a research idea for a biotech start-up? This Challenge is unique because NIDA intends to fund the “would be” startup Founders much earlier than most investors, incubators, or traditional models of research funding (e.g. small business grants).

What does it take to participate in the Challenge? The team or an individual must have a research idea that could further the understanding of SUD and is intended to be the basis of the development of a new and potentially successful startup. The research “idea” is the product that your future startup will offer. Here, the term startup “product” is used in its broadest definition. Product is any source of value for the people who become customers. Services, subscriptions, software as a service (SaaS), physical/tangible products, aggregations, etc. could all provide value and thus be considered startup products. The startup product could be the result of novel scientific discoveries, repurposing an existing technology for a new use, extending a research observation or discovery made in a different scientific area into SUD, devising a new business model or distribution/delivery channel that unlocks new value, or simply bringing a product or service to an underserved customer. The Founder (the teams or an individual) must demonstrate through the Submission the passion, drive, discipline, ability to work collaboratively and willingness to push forward under conditions of extreme business uncertainty.

The winners of this Challenge are encouraged to use the prize funds to develop a minimum viable proof (MVP) as quickly as possible and to obtain customer feedback to discover if MVP meets the customer needs. If the product prototype is successfully validated, winners are encouraged to create or further advance their biotech startup no later than 6 months after the prize is awarded. Post Challenge, as with all other NIH grant applicants, NIDA staff will provide dedicated assistance and guidance about the grant submission process, including how to submit an SBIR/STTR application to NIDA’s small business programs.

The research idea must be broad enough to address multiple conditions, diseases, or indications consistent with SUD or be specific for prevention and treatments of SUD. For example, if your idea can only work for cancer or diabetes, entering this Challenge is not appropriate. However, if the plan is to test an idea for a research tool that would further an understanding of neurobiology or epigenetics relevant to SUD to progress faster and with greater fidelity, entering this Challenge is appropriate.

Submission Requirements

Each submission for this Challenge requires a complete “Submission Package.” The Submission Package includes a 4-page written proposal describing an idea and 5-min video introducing the team (see requirements below). Both the idea and the Founders will be evaluated.

  1. In the proposal:
    • Describe your research idea that would further an understanding of neurobiology as it relates to SUD and that is intended to be the basis for a successful start-up. (1 page)
    • Convince the Challenge reviewers of your technical competence as a biomedical scientist. Be brief, selective and persuasive. Do not use the NIH Bibliographic Sketch format. (0.5 page)
    • Describe, in as many details as possible, what the prototype of your product would look like. Then, walk the Challenge reviewers through the typical use of the product, using simple terms and instructions. (1.5 pages)
    • Explain the methods you will use (how, when, where, whom) to determine whether the product is needed by the target audience and whether that audience would be willing to pay for the product. (1 page)

    The proposal must consist of a PDF file with at least 1 inch margins and no more than four (4) pages long. Font size must be no smaller than 11 point Arial. All submissions must be in English. The Contestants must not use HHS’s logo or official seal or the logo of NIH or NIDA in the submissions, and must not claim federal government endorsement.
  2. A brief video (link to YouTube) must be no longer than five (5) minutes. If the Challenge submission is from the team of Founders, the entire team must participate in the submitted video. In the YouTube video:
    • Tell NIDA something, in one minute or less, that can illustrate the drive or the desire of each founder to develop a product that would further an understanding of neurobiology as it relates to SUD and that is intended to be the basis for a successful start-up.
    • Tell NIDA something about each founder that shows a high level of scientific and entrepreneurial ability.
    • Tell NIDA something about each founder that shows a high level of perseverance and grit.
    • Tell NIDA about a time when your great idea was rejected. What was your response?

Amount of the Prize

The Challenge offers up to ten awards of $10,000 each and provide mentorship support from NIDA entrepreneurship experts for MVP development. The total prize award pool is up to $100,000. No institutional indirect costs are allowed. Winners are encouraged to submit the minimum viable proof (MVP) report 6 months after the prize payment. The names of the winners and the titles of their submissions will be posted on the NIDA web site. The award approving official for this Challenge is the Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Prizes awarded under this Challenge will be paid by electronic funds transfer and may be subject to Federal income taxes. The NIH/NIDA will comply with the Internal Revenue Service withholding and reporting requirements, where applicable.

Basis upon Which the Winner Will Be Selected.  The judging panel will make recommendations to the award approving official based upon the following 5 criteria. Each criterion will be scored with the maximum of 10 points.

  1. Significance and Unmet Needs (0-10 points). Are there significant needs for your product or service? Does the project address an important problem or a critical barrier to progress in the field of drug abuse research? If the aims of the project are achieved, how will scientific knowledge, technical capability, service or clinical practice be improved?
  2. Innovation (0-10 points). Does the submission seek to shift current paradigms by utilizing novel theoretical concepts, approaches, methodologies, instrumentation, service or interventions for drug abuse research? Is your product novel in a broad sense? Is a refinement, improvement or new application of theoretical concepts, approaches or methodologies instrumentation or interventions proposed?
  3. Approach (0-10 points). Are the overall strategy, methodology, and analyses well-reasoned and appropriate to test the proposed idea? Has feedback from end users been incorporated into the validity of the idea proposed?
  4. Team expertise (0-10 points). Does the individual or team demonstrate high level of ability, perseverance and grit?
  5. Commercialization (0-10 points). Is there a clear path for the product/service to reach the market? Are the product users and purchasers clearly identified?

Submissions that are responsive and comply with the entry requirements will be reviewed by a panel of judges consisting of federal employees. The responsive and compliant submissions entries will be scored in accordance with the judging criteria outlined above. Final recommendations will be determined by a vote of the judges based on score. Scores from each criterion will be weighted equally, but failure to meet a minimum standard for any one criterion might disqualify a submission. The score for each submission will be the sum of the scores from each of the voting judges.

Teams selected for the $10,000 prize awards:

  • Team: University of California, Los Angeles (Keith Heinzerling, Dustin DeYoung, Marisa Briones)
    Submission Title: Medication Development for Substance Use Disorders
  • Team: OPAT (Alex Rich, John Cronin, Jarrod Parker, Cameron Yick)
    Submission Title: Opioid Prescribing Awareness Tool
  • Team: Cornell Engineering World Health (group of multidisciplinary students leading by Nadine Farhat, Michael Solomentsev, Joanna Davis, Ben Edwards, and Jacob Mathai)
    Submission Title: Drug Usage App - Sensory Monitoring
  • Team: Pillsy Inc. (Jeff LeBrun, Chuks Onwuneme)
    Submission Title: Connected Pharmacy Platform to Improve Adherence for Opioid Agonists
  • Team: Neurocarrus Inc. (Paul Blum PhD, Benjamin Pavlik)
    Submission Title: Non-addictive Pain Therapeutics by Sensory Neuron Targeting
  • Team: Mindset-SUD (Elizabeth Russell, Ravi Chacko, Tony Buchanan)
    Submission Title: Mindset-SUD: A Mobile Dialectical Behavioral Therapy Tool
  • Team: Prapela LLC (John Konsin, Jim Niemi)
    Submission Title: Prapela – an Award Winning Solution for Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome
  • Team: Hey,Charlie  (Emily Lindemer, Vincent Valant, Ben Pyser)
    Submission Title: Hey,Charlie: A Digital Platform for Social Rebuilding During Recovery
  • Team: Yale University School of Medicine (Joel Gelernter MD, Yaira Nunez, Renato Polimanti)
    Submission Title: Test Your Addictions
  • Team: University of California, San Diego (Tim Mackey, Janani Kalyanam)
    Submission Title: A Solution to Automatically Detect, Classify, and Report Illicit Online Pharmacies Selling Controlled Substances
Past Challenge: 2016 - $100,000 for Start a SUD Startup

Dates::

Submission Dates: 9 a.m. ET, Jun 13, 2016- 11:59 p.m. ET, Sep 16, 2016
Judging Dates: Sep 19, 2016 – Nov 04, 2016
Winners Announced: Nov 08, 2016

Outreach:

The Challenge info including the challenge flyer was disseminated to:

  • SBC incubators and accelerators (OTIPI generated list).
  • Tech Transfer Offices of Entrepreneurial Universities (20 top NIDA-funded universities)
  • 18th Annual HHS SBIR/STTR Conference (November 2016, FL)
  • KO1 and F31 NIDA applicants (2015-2016)
  • K99 applicants (2013-2016)
  • Academic mentors (active NIDA P01& P50 grantees)
  • CEBRA R21 applicants (PAT-15-079; 65 contacts)
  • Challenge.gov serve list
  • NIDA landing page rotator, NIDA challenge webpage, NIDA public media
  • SBCs that considered to apply for NIDA SBIR/STTR program and had a meeting with OTIPI members.

Submissions:

  • 15 submissions were received on November 08, 2016.

Summary of Outcomes:

NIDA selected 10 winners, who received $10,000 each, to develop minimal viable products (MVPs) and test an underlining commercial hypothesis. The selected teams were wonderfully diverse in terms of age, level of education, gender, race and understanding of commercialization and entrepreneurship. During 2017, the Office of Translational Initiatives and Program Innovation (OTIPI) worked closely with the teams to perform costumer discovery, identify product differentiation features, refine the overall value proposition, and put together competitive NIDA SBIR/STTR applications.

Within 12 months of the post-challenge period, all teams made significant progress: Five teams successfully incorporated a small business and submitted applications to NIDA PA-17-302 (April, 2017), PHS2018-1 NIDA topic 164 (October 2017), and RFA-DA-18-012 (December 2017). One team that submitted the R43 application to NIDA PA-17-302, but received the low the priority score, resubmitted the improved application to NSF and was funded. Two teams performed significant work and, as a result, determined that due to the product cost, number of due diligence or regulatory hurdles, there was no path to the market. Two teams had only junior scientists with minimal expertise for the product development who could not allocate the efforts and resources to complete MVP development. One team was not incorporated a small business by the end of 2017 and keeps working to develop MVP and SBIR application.

Challenge Winners:

  • Team 1: PainQx Inc. (Frank Minella, Leslie Prichep, Alejandro Zamorano, William Koppes)
    Challenge Submission Title: PQX Objective Pain Measurement
    1R44 DA045385-01: Development of a Clinical Tool Utilizing an EEG Based Algorithm for the Objective Quantification of Pain
    The 1R44 DA045385-01 application was not discussed during the review meeting.
    The PainQx researchers proposed to develop a quantitative electro-encephalogram (qEEG) measure of pain. Reviewers found that validating the qEEG measure against self-reported pain in a chronic pain cohort is contradictory. It wasn’t clear that this will result in a “better” measure of pain compared to self-report. The proposal was found lacking details on the actual system prototype, pain classification algorithm, a proper control group in Phase I, discussion of factors other than age that might influence pain perception, and clear milestones to show feasibility of pain prediction and to justify progression to Phase II.
    After discussion of the Summary of Statement with OPIPI the application was submitted in December 2017 to RFA-DA-18-012 as 1R44 DA046964-01: Development of a Medical Device Utilizing an EEG-Based Algorithm for the Objective Quantification of Pain. The application is currently pending NIDA review.
  • Team 2: Vlad Verkhusha and Daria Shcherbakova from Albert Einstein College of Medicine
    Challenge Submission Title: Near-infrared biosensors and optogenetics to advance preclinical studies in neurobiology
    This team was not incorporated a small business by the end of 2017 and keeps working with OTIPI to develop MVP and SBIR application
  • Team 3: Florida International University team (Francisco R. Ortega, Armando Barreto, Jules Calella, Alain Galvan, Santiago Bolivar)
    Challenge Submission Title: Bio-Interactive Device for SUD
    This team received the OTIPI mentorship and performed significant work to develop MVP. As the result of due diligences, they determine no path of the product to the market due to the product cost and regulatory hurdles. The team was not incorporated a small business.
  • Team 4: Beacon Health. Co (Shrenik Jain)
    Challenge Submission Title: Applying Natural Language Processing to Increase Provider Efficiency in SUD group therapy setting
    Created team for the SBIR application (Jain Shrenik, Ranney Megan, Kristen Morgan, Francesca Beaudoin, Langdon, Kirsten J, Roche Dan)
    1R43 DA045402-01: Applying Natural Language Processing to Increase Provider Efficiency and Patient Engagement in SUD Group Therapy.
    The 1R43 DA045402-01 application was not discussed during the review meeting.
    Beacon Tech proposed to use a mobile app with underlying NLP for sentiment analysis to improve management of substance abuse disorders. Reviewers found that application presents underdeveloped scientific model of sentiment analysis influencing app enhancement, patient engagement, and clinical outcomes. Despite of listed extensive expertise, there was little description of project management and investigator coordination. The study design as a controlled trial was lacking a description of measurable results. The study portion of the application could benefit from involvement of a statistician familiar with clinical trials and clarifying the role of the involved personal.
    Currently, OTIPI is working with the team to address review comments, straight the team and resubmit application.
  • Team 5: Epidemic Solutions, Inc. (Joseph Insler, Scott Weiner, John Moustoukas, Ajoy Basu, Michael Gilbert)
    Challenge Submission Title: Opioid Recovery Bracelet
    1R43 DA045423-01: Overdose Recovery Bracelet: A wearable device that detects opioid overdose and automatically injects life-saving naloxone without the help of others.
    The 1R43 DA045423-01 application was not discussed during the review meeting.
    Epidemic Solutions Inc. proposed development of a wearable system that can detect episode of opioid overdose and automatically inject antidote. Review found that there are practical and safety issues associated with the proposed system, and the research approach was poorly developed. Although the research team is strong in the clinical side, there is a lack of strong engineering/technical members to ensure the success of this project. Overall, while the medical need is strong, the concerns of practicality and safety and the poorly developed research approach tempered the enthusiasm of the reviewers for this proposal.
  • Team 6: JADE Biotech (John Lowman, Randall Brenn, Elora Hilmas, Dan Charytonowicz)
    Challenge Submission Title: Developing a Solution to Prevent the Diversion, Abuse, and Addiction to Hospital Narcotic Waste
    This team received the OTIPI mentorship and performed significant work to develop MVP. As the result of due diligences, they determine no path of the product to the market due to the product cost and regulatory hurdles. The team was not incorporated a small business.
  • Team 7: University of Kentucky College of Medicine, Bodhi Inc. (Michael Wesley, Josh Lile, Arit Harvanko, David Hempy)
    Challenge Submission Title: BiOfeedback and brain stimulation DEvicE
    The team was incorporated a small business in September 2017 and submitted the proposal as a response to PHS2018-1 NIDA, the topic #164 “Development of Portable Neuromodulatory Devices for the Treatment of Substance Use Disorders”. The proposal is currently pending NIDA review.
  • Team 8: Care Analytics, University of Texas Health Science Center (Benson M Irungu, Mon-Ju Wu, Phillip Beckett, Tom Lee)
    Challenge Submission Title: A software tool to predict relapse related readmissions and provide post-discharge care coordination
    During MVP development process the team joined Medical Innovators Company LLC
    1R43 DA045405-01: A software solution to provide seamless care coordination and objective risk stratification to reduce relapse in substance use.
    1R43 DA045405-01 application was discussed during the review study section and received the Priority Score of 68.
    The Medical Innovators Company proposed to develop software as a service (SAAS) technology that will be able to facilitate collection, curation and end-user co-creation of community social resource information. The tool is to identify people at risk for substance use disorder (SUD) relapse. Reviewer found that this project was lacking input from experts in SUD and statisticians. The approach discussed interviews but the participant group and the methods are not clear. There are also no specifics about how the data will be obtained from patients, and no clear methods and description of the predictive algorithm were presented. Reviewers founded also weakness in the supportive cited literature.
    OTIPI discussed the Summary Statement to address comments and propose the way to align budget efforts to actual proposed work.
    Following the significant revision of the application, the team has submitted it to the NSF SBIR program and was selected for funding in December 2017.
  • Team 9: Clare Zhu and Anin Sayana
    Challenge Submission Title: Blockchain-Based Healthcare Data Management
    The team had only junior scientists with minimal expertise for the product development who could not allocate the efforts and resources to complete MVP development. The team received the OTIPI training but decided do not incorporate a small business and do not submit a SBIR application.
  • Team 10: Viralchemy Bioscience (Trevor Gale, Tim Horton, Ben Bradley)
    Challenge Submission Title: Proteomics, Informatics, & Data Mining to Reduce Costs of Drug Development for Substance Use Disorders
    The team had only junior scientists with minimal expertise for the product development who could not allocate the efforts and resources to complete MVP development. The team received the OTIPI training but decided do not incorporate a small business and do not submit a SBIR application.
Past Challenge: 2016 - Addiction Research: There’s an App for That

The goal of this challenge was to create an app to be used by addiction researchers in future studies which will help to improve the scientific understanding of drug use and addiction. The app will: allow researchers to engage “citizen scientists” and to recruit a large and varied number of willing study participants; present informed-consent materials; collect data frequently on a broad range of variables. NIDA encourages addiction researchers to use the newly available technical capabilities of ResearchKit™ and seek collaboration(s) with app developers and engineers to create the winning research app. (Submission Period: November 3, 2015 - April 29, 2016.)  For more information go to nida.ideascale.com.

Based upon the Challenge criteria, the judging panel selected:

  • First place - Greg Gruse, ICF International Inc., Rockville, MD for the submission entitled “Track the Crave” 
    Track the Crave is an app developed to target smokers who are trying to quit and willing to provide detailed information about the circumstances surrounding their cravings. This app has the potential to help users in their quit attempt as well as provide a wealth of data that can inform future efforts to provide tailored and adaptive cessation interventions to smokers. The study aims to determine predictors of smoking relapse following a quit attempt, and identify if there are different patterns of quit trajectories.  Researchers will be able to use this information to better understand the nuances of the quitting process and better assist smokers in permanently quitting.
  • Second place - Joshua Song, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI for the submission entitled “Substance Abuse Research Assistant (SARA)”
    SARA is a flexible app platform that is customizable by researchers to integrate multiple data collection tools including wearable sensors, cognitive tasks, and self-report relevant for substance use research. The SARA study will focus on adolescents and emerging adults to understand initiation and escalation of drug use among youth. The app has an innovative engagement strategy providing data visualization and dynamic feedback to users.  
  • Third place - Nancy Saccone, Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis, MO for the submission entitled “Genomics of Addiction (GENA) App”.
    GENA app is a platform for adults who are participating in research programs conducted by genomic company 23andMe. The GENA study aims to integrate the existing 23andMe genetic data with substance use information to identify genetic and biological contributors to addiction. Researchers will drive large-scale human genomic studies of substance use disorders, with the goal of discovering important biological mechanisms and ultimately aiding the development of improved treatment and prevention strategies.

We appreciate all of the time and effort that went into each application, and encourage applicants to consider additional NIDA Challenges.

Past Challenge: 2015 - Harnessing Insights from other Disciplines to Advance Drug Abuse and Addiction Research

After completing a thorough review of the applications received, the judging panel found that none was sufficiently meritorious and responsive to the concept of the challenge. NIDA has therefore decided not to award any prizes. We appreciate all of the time and effort that went into each application. (Submission Period: May 26, 2015 - June 30, 2015)

Past Challenge: 2015 - Innovations in Measuring and Managing Addiction Treatment Quality

After completing a thorough review of the applications received, the judging panel found that none was sufficiently responsive to the concept of the challenge to meet the standard for a First Prize Award.  NIDA is awarding a meritorious/ honorable award of $10,000 to Jeremy Martinez, MD, Matrix Institute on Addictions, Los Angeles, CA for the submission title: “The Patient-Oriented Treatment Information Framework (POTIF)”.  We appreciate all of the time and effort that went into each application, and encourage applicants to consider additional NIDA Challenges. (Submission Period: Jan. 14, 2015 - June 1, 2015)

Challenge Program Staff

Irina Sazonova, Ph.D., M.Sc.
Health Scientist Administrator, Office of Translational Initiatives and Program Innovations (OTIPI)
Challenge Program Administrator
National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)
6001 Executive Blvd Room 4206, MSC 9555
Bethesda, MD 20892-9555
Phone: (301) 827-9564

Elena Koustova, Ph.D., MBA
Director, Office of Translational Initiatives and Program Innovations (OTIPI)
NIDA Challenge Manager
National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)
6001 Executive Blvd Room 4286, MSC 9555
Bethesda, MD 20892-9555
Phone: (301) 496-8768

This page was last updated December 2018