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Pentagon Casts Wider Net to Avert the Next Ebola Before It Arrives

isak55/Shutterstock.com

The Pentagon is looking for organizations that have never done business with the government to weigh in with biological technology solutions to tomorrow's problems -- including Ebola and whatever infectious disease threat comes next.

In an effort to expand the pool of applicants for research funds, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency on Thursday announced a new two-page application it hopes smaller, nontraditional organizations and startups can use to initiate the funding process.

“Anyone, of course, can apply" using the EZ Broad Agency Announcement, or EZ BAA, Alicia Jackson, deputy director of DARPA’s Biological Technology Office, told reporters. “But it’s really focused on those people who’ve just never done business with the government before,” she said.

The office is interested in “the intersection of biology, engineering and computer science,” including neurotechnology, prosthetics and possibly mind-controlled prosthetics.

DARPA also aims to change the way the government deals with infectious disease from reactive to proactive.

“We’re not interested in solving just the Ebola crisis,” Jackson said, noting the current situation in West Africa follows a long line of recent outbreaks, including bird flu, SARS and MERS.

“We want to make sure we’re prepared for the next thing that comes down the pike,” she said. “We want to be in a position where we’re actually building a platform technology that can be applied not just to Ebola but to the next thing."

Think you or your company should apply?

"Do you have a way to completely transform the way we even think about going and attacking these problems – with a vaccine or a therapeutic or a diagnostic?" Jackson said. "That’s the kind of idea we’re looking for."

Jackson requested white papers no longer than two pages describing who is applying and the research idea. In-house DARPA managers will review the papers and ask some teams to proceed with a longer proposals for the EZ money, which is capped at $700,000 and is limited to unclassified research.

“This is meant to be a gateway to traditional funding,” Jackson said, noting the typical BAA application process can seem too cumbersome for small and nontraditional applicants. 

The call is open for a year and the amount the agency doles out will depend on the nature of the proposals. “We’re assuming if it goes well it will just be reissued every year,” Jackson said.

The White House earlier this week requested more than $6 billion to respond to Ebola both in the United States and elsewhere. That sum included $112 million for, among other things, DARPA’s efforts to develop treatments using antibodies of survivors of Ebola and other infectious diseases until a vaccine is available.

(Image via isak55/Shutterstock.com)

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