Now that NIH NCATS Is Replacing NCRR, Where Have The NCRR Programs Gone?

It has been over a year since NIH Director Francis Collins announced the creation of the National Center for Advancing Translational Science. From the NIH website:  “The goal of NCATS will be to develop new ways of doing translational research that the public and private research and development communities can adopt. Innovations that come out of NCATS are intended to cut down the time or expense needed to develop a new drug, or allow us to predict which compounds will work best and be safe earlier in development.”

CLICK HERE for more information on the mission of NCATS.

One casualty of the formation of NCATS has been the National Center for Research Resources (NCRR.) Where have the NCRR programs gone? Two have wound up at NIGMS. From a NIGMS blog post by Judith Greenberg:

“In the first major reorganization of NIGMS since 1994, we have just established two new divisions that bring together existing NIGMS programs with programs transferred to NIGMS from the former National Center for Research Resources (NCRR). These changes give us the opportunity to create synergies and strengthen efforts in areas that are central to our mission.

“The Division of Training, Workforce Development, and Diversity (TWD) merges NIGMS research training programs with activities that were previously in the Institute’s Division of Minority Opportunities in Research (MORE). It also houses the Institutional Development Award program from NCRR. Our decision to create this division was informed by input we received from many stakeholders, and it responds to key goals and recommendations of our strategic plans. Its director is Clif Poodry, who formerly directed the MORE Division.

“The Division of Biomedical Technology, Bioinformatics, and Computational Biology (BBCB) combines programs of our Center for Bioinformatics and Computational Biology (CBCB) with biomedical technology programs from NCRR. Karin Remington, who previously directed CBCB, is the director of this new division.

“You might be wondering what the reorganization will mean for your current or future funding. The amount of money allocated to programs in the new divisions will not change as a result of the reorganization or the transfer of NCRR programs to NIGMS. The review of applications will stay the same, too, as will most of the staff who manage the grants and review the applications.”


The New National Center For Advancing Translational Sciences

NIH Director Francis Collins is looking to leave his mark on the NIH: He has proposed a highly-controversial National Center For Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS). On January 22, the New York Times reported on it.

The NIH Office of the Director responded with a document entitled “Separating Fact From Fiction”:

The five main points of the OD piece are: 1) NCATS will be assembled primarily from existing programs; 2) NCATS is not intended to be a drug company; 3) The final budget is unknown; 4) There is no plan to “cannibalize” (the word used in The Times piece) the budgets of other ICs to form NCATS; and 5) NIH remains committed to basic, translational, and clinical research.

It is a fact that it costs a tidy sum to bring a drug to market, and as a result research in the pharmaceutical industry has been declining for 15 years. Whether the government can step into that gap successfully and without damaging other research enterprises is hotly debated. Collins is quoted in The Times piece as saying, “I am a little frustrated to see how many of the discoveries that do look as though they have therapeutic implications are waiting for the pharmaceutical industry to follow through with them.”

He goes on, “There are some people that would say this is not the time to do something bold and ambitious because the budget is so tight. But we would be irresponsible not to take advantage of scientific opportunity, even if it means tightening in other places.”

Such language has many researchers deeply concerned, especially given that the NIH may be facing budget cuts in FY12. Because Congress recently expanded the powers of an NIH Director, NCATS would be realized as early as October.

Scientists aren’t the only ones who are concerned. A January 27th piece in Science magazine states that Congress has demanded answers.

And a January 28 piece in Science indicates some lack of internal support at NIH. This piece quotes Yale Chemistry Professor Scott Miller as stating, “If the reason [to create NCATS] is to derisk opportunities for industry, I think that’s quite bizarre and contrary to the entrepreneurial spirit.” James Stevens, a senior research fellow at Lilly Labs, adds, “If there is any organization that is slower and less agile than industry, it is the federal government.”

I hope that people who are involved in the biomedical research community in this country will stay informed, discuss, debate, and publicly comment on these developments.