Ohio grants, tech challenge cleared to fight opioid crisis

By JULIE CARR SMYTH - AP Statehouse Correspondent

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — A state commission in Ohio agreed Wednesday to move forward on Republican Gov. John Kasich’s request to invest $20 million in accelerating scientific breakthroughs that could help solve the U.S. opioid crisis.

The plan will include $12 million in competitive research and development grants and $8 million for a spirited innovation challenge modeled after the Head Health competition launched by the NFL, Under Armour and GE to address traumatic brain injuries.

The Third Frontier Commission voted unanimously to release requests for proposals for both prongs of the effort.

Ohio leads the nation in opioid-related overdose deaths, with 2,700 reported in 2015, a 28 percent increase over the year before, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The epidemic driven by prescription painkillers and heroin is being called the worst in U.S. history.

Evoking Ohio innovators Thomas Edison and the Wright Brothers, Kasich called for dedicating the money to the cause, and then moving quickly to distribute it, during his State of the State address in April.

Researchers in addiction and drug abuse at top tier Ohio institutions, such as Cleveland Clinic and Ohio State University, have said their studies of potentially groundbreaking treatments and technologies can benefit from a financial boost.

Among the ideas are special patient monitoring technologies; a device attached to the ear that relieves pain and blocks the effects of opiate withdrawal; deep brain stimulation; and a combination of physical therapy and psychological therapy.

However, the commission indicated Wednesday it doesn’t intend to limit grant recipients to Ohio residents and institutions. Members said they want the effort to establish the state as a national leader.

“Let’s say that we’re the state that’s going to solve the problem, and let’s put our money where our mouth is,” said Commissioner Bruce Langos, a technology executive.

The commission supports Ohio’s technology and research economy with money from a voter-approved bond. The $20 million is coming from its existing revenue stream.

The research and development grants will be awarded to those developing products in the areas of diagnostics, devices, pharmaceuticals and health technologies.

The tech challenge will have three phases: ideas will be widely solicited; the most promising ideas will be named semi-finalists and given grants to turn their concepts into solutions; then finalists will win top monetary prizes for use in bringing their ideas to market.

Norm Chagnon, the commission’s executive director, said finalists will be paired with mentors and Ohio’s top minds in marketing and development.


AP Statehouse Correspondent