"Frustrated" NIH chief plots $1B drug development effort

Pronouncing himself "a little frustrated" with pharma's apparent inability to rapidly follow up on scientific breakthroughs with a new generation of therapeutics, NIH chief Francis Collins is pushing ahead with ambitious plans to create a new center for translational medicine that will do some of the early-stage work for the drug development industry.

Collins' plan, endorsed by HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and outlined over the weekend by the New York Times, is to bring together $700 million in R&D work under one roof at the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences, where government scientists will pursue a billion dollars in funding to push the projects through the Valley of Death. Collins' blueprint calls for scientists to get enough proof-of-concept data in hand to whet pharma's appetite, spurring them to step in and finish the discovery work needed to obtain an approval.

The R&D effort, though, has triggered plenty of debate inside and outside the NIH. Early-stage therapeutic development is a notoriously difficult field, with failure a regular occurrence. Those risks have spurred plenty of soul searching.

"Would we be foolish--we being an agency that has never developed drugs and actually doesn't know how to do therapeutics that well--to get into this space?" asked Dr. Thomas Insel, director of the National Institute of Mental Health.

- here's the article from the New York Times