NIH fast tracks $720M for new drug discovery center

NIH chief Francis Collins made waves in the research community with his ambitious plans to build a new center designed to speed up the high-risk business of chaperoning new drugs out of the lab and toward advanced clinical trials. By NIH standards, Collins was moving at light-speed by projecting a launch date in October. But Nature Medicine reports that the $720 million in funding is coming together nicely, impressing observers with a hefty cache of cash that could make a big impact on the field of translational medicine.

The money is being cobbled together from the National Center for Research Resources' budget, $68 million from a pair of rare disease initiatives and $100 million from the Cures Acceleration Network, which is being absorbed into the new National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences. NCATS will focus on a subject dear to Collins: Therapeutic and diagnostic discovery based on genomics, his specialty. Ever since the 10th anniversary of the first sequencing of the human genome, scientists have been forced to explain why there hasn't been more progress on this in the clinic. And Collins is determined to give the field a big push.

"This is the first news that I'm aware of that there's new, unassigned money in the NCATS," U. Penn's Garret FitzGerald told Nature Medicine. That added money will give NCAT leaders some real firepower and "help foster other aspects of translation therapeutics."

"NCATS is expected to offer innovative approaches to the development pipeline," wrote HHS secretary Kathleen Sebelius, in a recent letter to Senator Tom Harkin, as well as "provide novel approaches to diagnostics and therapeutics development."

NCATS is also expected to pick up the work of the Clinical and Translational Science Awards, which yesterday outlined an expansion at five new centers which will be provided $200 million over the next five years. But FitzGerald sounded a note of caution, saying that it's still uncertain whether the big shift now underway at the NIH will trigger a refocus on that front as well.  

- here's the report from Nature
- read the letter from Sebelius
- see the release on the $200 million in translational grants