NIH Considering New Translational Medicine Institute

Jocelyn is a staff writer for Science magazine.

Weeks after deciding to trim one of its 27 institutes and centers, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) is now looking at creating a new center focused on translational medicine. An advisory board will vote on the proposal next week.

According to slides from a 10 November advisory board teleconference, the new center would take advantage of the growing number of potential drug "targets" emerging from basic research labs at the same time that drug companies are cutting back on research and development. The center's purpose would be to "expand and augment the agency's effort in developing new therapeutics."

It would house several existing programs at NIH, including a small molecule-screening program, an effort to develop drugs for rare and neglected diseases, and NIH's Clinical and Translational Science Awards, which are big grants that support clinical research at academic medical centers. The center would also fold in the Cures Acceleration Network, a drug development program created by the health care reform bill. It would have strong ties to NIH's intramural Clinical Center, an underused, 240-bed facility that advisers say NIH should open up to outside scientists.

The proposal for the translational center comes from a working group of NIH's Scientific Management Review Board (SMRB), which looks for ways to streamline NIH's structure. NIH Director Francis Collins is moving ahead with a recent SMRB recommendation to combine research at the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism in a new addictions institute. This will trim NIH's 27 institutes to 26.

Adding more institutes was not what some envisioned SMRB would do. But the law creating SMRB also capped the total number of NIH institutes at 27, leaving open the possibility of creating a new one whenever the number drops.

The SMRB working group's chair, Arthur Rubenstein, dean of the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, did not respond to an e-mail seeking comment ahead of a 7 December meeting during which the full SMRB will discuss the proposed center. But debate can be expected. In the past, industry scientists have questioned the value of some of NIH's drug-discovery efforts.

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