NIH chief lobbies for $500M fund to back clinical trials

NIH chief Francis Collins (photo) is lobbying Congress to set aside a half-billion dollar fund that will give start-up biotechs up to $15 million to bankroll clinical trials for new drugs that treat neglected diseases. The initiative marks a strategic shift for the NIH, which has played a big role sponsoring the academic research that often winds up in developers' hands.

"We have the chance now to make progress in therapeutics that we really could not have done five or six years ago; we just didn't have the science," Collins says in an interview with Bloomberg. By creating the new program, "we will have a good chance of some dramatic stories of success."

The program has been authorized but not yet funded by lawmakers, and Collins is facing a growing rebellion in Congress against the historic deficits that have been run up in recent years. If he can find the money, Collins says the program will be able to support the entire clinical development program needed for 20 new drug projects. In the meantime, developers like AesRx in Newton, MA have won NIH backing through the new Therapeutics for Rare & Neglected Diseases program.

Some academic researchers are skeptical. "If he's going to dip into the pool that supports investigator-originated grants, that's a huge mistake," Brandeis University's Gregory Petsko tells the business news service. "I think he's trying to address a short-term problem at the expense of long-term research."

- here's the article from Bloomberg