2022-2026 NIDA Strategic Plan
Priority Scientific Area #5: Translate Research into Innovative Health Applications

NIDA has been a leader in leveraging the power of small-business innovation to develop new tools and technologies for preventing, diagnosing, and treating drug-related problems and for advancing research. Through significant investment in its Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs, NIDA has supported the development of FDA-regulated therapeutic and diagnostic devices, mobile health and general wellness products, research tools, and health information technology solutions. In some cases, NIDA’s role involves helping academic scientists better understand how to turn a promising finding into a product ready for commercialization. In other cases, NIDA supports small businesses that are in a position to create such technologies but may not be aware of their potential to help with problems related to drug use and addiction. Sometimes, startups have already developed and marketed a technology for a different health care purpose; modifying these technologies to serve the needs of people with SUDs has great potential to benefit this famously underserved patient population. NIDA supports this work through targeting investment in projects with translational potential, facilitating partnerships with public and private stakeholders, and promoting translational research education and training. NIDA also maximizes the impact of its research by working directly with diverse stakeholders to disseminate research findings and facilitate the rapid uptake of evidence-based practices and policy.

Goal 5.1: Facilitate research translation through education and partnerships

Although there has been tremendous growth in the addiction science workforce, the traditional training academic researchers receive does not always prepare them to transform their research into a usable product—the “development” piece of “research and development.” Therefore, NIDA invests in education and training programs to equip scientists with the competence to turn their ideas into products. For example, NIDA offers an intensive training course to teach entrepreneurship and product development skills through case studies and dynamic presentations from leaders in the SUD field. Through the NIDA Challenges Program, the “Start a SUD Startup Challenge” is a Shark Tank-style opportunity that provides technical assistance and mentorship as part of a larger award aimed at helping winners determine whether their research ideas can be fostered into a biotech startup. In addition, NIDA offers a comprehensive suite of other resources to help small businesses improve the commercial success of products, obtain training and technical assistance, and locate other resources and funding. 

Effective partnerships are also an essential component of translational research. NIDA helps connect researchers with collaborators, including investigators from other fields, health care providers and payors, other federal agencies, not-for-profit organizations, and people with lived experience with SUDs and their families. NIDA is committed to incorporating the perspectives of people for whom the products are intended and the contexts in which they will be used into how we prioritize, design, and report our research. For example, through the “Mapping Patient Journeys in Drug Addiction Treatment Challenge,” launched in partnership with the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health, NIDA solicited the creation of actionable patient journey maps to further the understanding of the obstacles that patients face in getting treatment for drug addiction. The maps are intended to identify specific points in the process where patients encounter the most difficulty, enabling NIDA to focus new research efforts on alleviating those areas of difficulty. NIDA will continue to foster partnerships to bolster research on all aspects of drug use and addiction.

Key Focus Areas

  • Incorporate patient perspectives into research to facilitate its adoption into practice.
  • Leverage and expand strategic alliances in areas of product development, entrepreneurship, and innovation. 
  • Provide educational opportunities for the addiction science workforce in translational research, product development, and commercialization.
  • Offer NIDA expertise in helping researchers navigate developing research into products.
  • Develop, establish, and maintain collaborative relationships with organizations that sponsor collecting addiction-related data or host related data repositories.
Goal 5.2: Capitalize on new technologies to deliver prevention, treatment, and recovery interventions 
"With this app, I can talk about what I feel or ask for help for anything and not feel dumb doing it." - Mary, individual in recovery

"I just want to say that having recovery support through technology is awesome. I am 14 months sober and it's been a long road but it's worth it to continue on my path of recovery." - Rocky, individual in recovery

In recent years, personal devices and other digital technologies have created many new possibilities for delivering and facilitating interventions that could never have been envisioned before. Each year, through its SBIR and STTR programs, challenges and prize authorities, and other innovative funding opportunities, NIDA awards funding to assist with startup projects at various stages of product development and company growth, from ideation to product development and sales and beyond. These products not only make a difference in the lives of the people who use them but they also become a resource to other small businesses seeking to follow a similar path or working in similar subject areas. NIDA has worked directly with small businesses to help them develop innovative and potentially transformative technologies based on NIDA-funded science and helped connect startups with venture capitalists able to provide funding. The results of these efforts have been a raft of new devices, smartphone apps, and other innovations that are improving the lives of people with addiction, potentially even saving lives (see table below “Health Technologies Developed with NIDA Support”). NIDA will continue to leverage its unique funding streams to spur innovation among academic scientists and small businesses and translate research into clinically meaningful and innovative health care and consumer products. 

Key Focus Areas

  • Develop technologies for safe and controlled methadone dispensing for use at home.
  • Advance the development of medical devices for SUD applications.
  • Develop digital health technologies to address stigma and other social determinants of health in the context of SUDs.
  • Develop novel technological approaches for investigating, diagnosing, and certifying deaths related to drug overdose.
  • Develop methods to facilitate detection of emerging substances.
  • Develop and assess the efficacy and effectiveness of digital therapeutics to improve patient engagement and retention in treatment.
  • Investigate computational psychiatry approaches that integrate multiple data sources and methods to study the digital phenotyping of people who use drugs and to optimize treatment delivery.
Health Technologies Developed with NIDA Support
CompanyProduct Description
AppliedVRRelieVRx™ is an FDA-approved virtual reality-based tool to treat people with chronic low-back pain by helping them learn how to better cope with pain. The goal is to reduce the need for opioids for many different pain indications and reduce the associated risk of developing an OUD.
Biobot AnalyticsBiobot developed a wastewater testing and analysis method to detect community exposure to opioids that could inform local opioid response efforts.
Boulder CareNIDA funded the research to test the usability, efficacy, and commercial utility of a digital platform to deliver comprehensive treatment for OUD.
InvisticsFlowlytics is cloud-based data analysis software that allows a health care facility to track its inventory of controlled substances, such as opioids, helping to prevent drug theft (also known as drug diversion). The patented software can detect potential drug diversion incidents earlier than previous methods.
PrapelaPrapela™ is a hospital bassinet pad that delivers gentle, random vibrations to treat newborns who were exposed to opioids before birth. The bassinet pad helps improve newborns’ breathing and heart rate and may also be useful for infants with breathing issues due to premature birth.
Pear TherapeuticsReSET-O® is now a prescription digital therapeutic that provides behavioral therapy to individuals with OUD via a mobile app.
Spark BiomedicalThe (formerly known as the Roo™) was developed as a wearable brain stimulation device to treat babies born dependent on opioids. The device is designed to reduce symptoms such as distress, seizures, and digestive problems, and the company has recently expanded this to The Sparrow Therapy System to treat people experiencing opioid withdrawal.
Sound Life SciencesSecondChance is inaudible sonar pulses to detect changes in a person’s breathing that may indicate a drug overdose or monitor other clinical indications. When the app detects changes in breathing, it has an emergency mode that is triggered to alert the patient’s caregivers and health care providers.
Woebot Health™Woebot is a smartphone-based mental health chatbot that uses artificial intelligence and language processing technology to deliver personalized cognitive behavioral therapy for people with SUDs. Woebot is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and is being expanded for use in additional mental health indications.
We the VillageWe the Village provides online support for families or friends of someone who is struggling with substance use or has SUD. The online support includes a course that aims to teach people communication and support skills and an online Q&A to help people share what they’ve learned, with the overall aim of helping loved ones reduce substance use and get treatment.
Workit HealthThe Workit Health app uses video chat and messaging technology to bring trained experts directly to those with SUDs via a phone or computer. The company is working to develop a chatbot to improve patient engagement and is continually working to expand its services to treat additional disorders and co-occurring conditions.