A variety of health groups have sent a letter to Congress asking that venture-backed biotechnology companies be made eligible again to receive Small Business Innovation Research grants.

Legislation has been passed in the House (Small Business Investment Expansion Act of 2007), but prospects form passage in the Senate remain unclear.

Sam Taylor, president of the NCBIO organization, read the letter and said the state business organization would add its weight to getting the bill passed.

"We support [it]," Taylor said in an e-mail to WRAL Local Tech Wire.

The text of the letter and a statement endorsing it was released by the Bio Industry Organization (BIO), which is based in Washington, D.C.

“The current eligibility guidelines are prohibiting many of the most innovative companies from competing for crucial early state research and development funding, which impacts the future of the research being pursued by universities and the patients that ultimately benefit from new treatments and cures,” the leaders wrote in the letter. “We respectfully urge you to restore SBIR eligibility for majority venture-backed companies in the upcoming reauthorization of the program.”

BIO, which represents more than 1,100 companies and academic institutions, noted that the Small Business Administration changed the rules regarding venture-backed firms in 2003.

“Millions of patients in America and throughout the world look to cutting-edge medical innovation in hopes of treating the devastating and chronic diseases they face. This letter is another plea for the government to untangle the bureaucracy blocking SBIR grants to those small companies who are doing frontline research everyday,” said BIO President and Chief Executive Officer Jim Greenwood.

BIO also noted that the director of the National Institutes of Health, which makes many of the SBIR grants available, has said the SBA rules change “undermines NIH’s ability to award SBIR funds to those applicants whom we believe are most likely to improve human health, which is the mission of NIH.”