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NIH Proposes New Therapeutic Development Center

December 15, 2010

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) is seeking input from the public and NIH staff on the proposed creation of a new center that would support translational science and consolidate several existing translational research programs. The National Center for Advancing Translations Sciences (NCATS) would support the development of therapeutics and clinical care from basic research discoveries. Charged with streamlining NIH's structure, the Scientific Management Review Board (SMRB) recommended establishing NCATS to house a number of NIH programs that could collaborate to decrease the risks involved in private drug and therapeutic development projects. Skeptics at a recent SMRB meeting expressed concern that the restructuring might endanger current NIH programs.

The SMRB, which includes several NIH institute directors and outside scientists, advises Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) officials on the organization of NIH institutes and centers. In May, a working group on translational medicine and therapeutics began identifying current NIH programs related to therapeutics development and creating a plan to better integrate their efforts. Last week, the SMRB voted to recommend the establishment of NCATS, which would incorporate the Molecular Libraries program, the Therapeutics for Rare and Neglected Diseases program, the Rapid Access to Interventional Development program and the Clinical and Translational Science Awards. It would also include Cures Acceleration Network, which was authorized in the health care reform bill, but has not yet received funding.

According to the board, NCATS would establish and provide focused, integrated and systematic approaches to link basic discovery research to therapeutics development and clinical care. The idea has proven popular with the pharmaceutical industry, according to a Reuters report. NCATS likely would focus on rare diseases, engaging in high-risk research to develop therapies in areas where for-profit companies are hesitant to make the long-term investments. NIH intends for the center to produce a steady pipeline of products and techniques to diagnose, treat and prevent a wide range of conditions.

Several groups and investigators associated with the National Center for Research Resources (NCRR) voiced their concerns about the proposed changes at last week's advisory board meeting, according to Science magazine. Under the plan, the NCRR would be partially absorbed by the new center. Since the $700 million cost would have to come from the existing NIH budget, many of those present at the meeting were worried about potential cuts. Objections included the short timeline for the restructuring, the lack of public input and the possibility that existing NCRR programs might be lost.

NIH Director Francis Collins intends to present a detailed plan for the center to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius in mid-2011. The changes could take place as early as October next year. NIH promises to offer many additional opportunities for public input on the plan, including teleconferences, in-person meetings and via the new Feedback website.

Read the NIH announcement at: http://feedback.nih.gov/index.php/category/ncats/#.