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The Time is Right for NCATS

My boss, Dr. Francis Collins, has just published an article in Science Translational Medicine describing why the time is right to establish the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS) at NIH. In this article, Francis lays out the goals, functions, and structure of the proposed NCATS. A major thrust of his article is to describe the bottlenecks in the therapeutic pipeline that are ripe for reengineering and how NCATS can contribute to overcoming these bottlenecks, all the way from target identification to first-in-human application.

I know that some in the community are concerned that this emphasis on the therapeutic pipeline may shift the balance of the NIH portfolio away from basic research. Francis has recognized these concerns and has spoken to the “virtuous cycle” whereby a strong translational effort will stimulate even more critical basic research. In fact, a clear goal of NCATS is to provide the fertile ground for scientists from academia, government, and the private sector to work together, particularly in the precompetitive space, in ways not seen before that will overcome many of the challenges of moving basic science into application.  He challenges us to move forward now on what can have “profound benefits for humankind.” I share the excitement of what NCATS will become and what the new center will offer to the extramural community. I am looking forward to the next year as we further shape the new center and will keep you updated on events as they unfold. I encourage you to visit the NIH Feedback website to share with us your thoughts on the proposed new center.

If you would like to hear Dr. Collins speak about NCATS in his own voice, listen to his podcast on this topic.

5 thoughts on “The Time is Right for NCATS

  1. Pingback: NIH director talks about NCATS and the budget crunch « OHSU Research News

  2. I share the excitement of what NCATS will become and what the new center will offer to the extramural community. I am looking forward to the next year as we further shape the new center and will keep you updated on events as they unfold.

    Congress has yet to approve the creation of NCATS and the dissolution of NCRR and seems to have many questions that have not been satisfactorily addressed. Isn’t this “excitement” a little premature?

    We don’t know whether NCATS or NCRR will appear in the CR that will start off FY12 or which NCRR programs will be continued where. Applying to most NCRR FOAs requires many months of planning and preparation, but already the CTSA RFA has been changed twice and the remaining NIH-RAID receipt dates were cancelled, while a notice about an anticipated delay in the G20 FOA appeared and disappeared the same day. These and other disruptions do not seem to be advancing translational science, particularly when researchers are already so stressed about funding.

  3. The parallel made in Dr. Collins’ article between the Human Genome Project and translational science is a poor one. The Human Genome Project was not a science project-it was an engineering project, which is one reason it was effectively accomplished by the private sector at a fraction of the cost. The ex-CEO of Merck has recently argued that drug development is best performed by industry, while the NIH’s incalculable contributions to medicine have been achieved primarily by funding the best science-not targeted science. As to why drug development has slowed, one possible explanation is that more basic science is needed. Perhaps the fact that GWAS has “revealed 1,100 well-validated genetic risk factors for common diseases” suggests that we don’t understand the basic biology of many diseases and that there may not be a magic bullet drug to cure diseases with complex epistasis in the near future (e.g., heart disease or autism). If this is the case the continued transfer of funds towards targeted translational programs could slow rather than accelerate the search for cures.

  4. Please enough with the podcasts! I can read an article/note in a fraction of the time as a podcast and the music is irritating. It is also much more difficult to extract information from the podcast if that is the intent. I find this site useful but if you must do podcasts, please provide a transcript as well.

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