A Senate spending panel has praised a new translational center at the National Institutes of Health but scolded NIH officials for how it was created. The language  accompanies the 2012 spending bill approved Wednesday by the Senate Appropriations Committee that would trim  NIH's budget by 0.6% next year, to $30.5 billion.
The new National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS) would receive $582 million under the legislation, which still must be approved by the full Senate and then negotiated with the House of Representatives, which has yet to act on NIH's 2012 budget. NIH had requested $722 million for NCATS, most of it from moving existing programs at the National Center for Research Resources, which is being closed, into NCATS. NIH had also requested $100 million within NCATS for the Cures Acceleration Network (CAN), a new program created by the 2010 health care reform bill. Instead, the Senate panel gave CAN $20 million.
In a report accompanying the bill, the committee lauds the creation of NCATS, which it calls "nothing less than fundamentally changing the way NIH pursues the translation of basic science into treatments and cures." But the committee is "disappointed by the way the Administration requested it." The president's 2012 budget released in February included only a "vague description" of NCATS and no budget details, which "caused unnecessary uncertainty" and "contributed to the impression that it was being rushed." NIH should keep those lessons in mind as it proceeds over the next 2 years  with plans to merge its two addiction institutes, the committee says.
The report also warned that tight budgets will likely continue and that NIH needs to "explore creative ways" of allocating funding. "Continuing to nick away, little by little, at the success rate or size of awards ... will inevitably have a negative impact on young investigators" and on high-risk research, the report says.
The panel said it was "deeply disturbed" by a recent analysis  finding that black scientists are far less likely to win research grants than white scientists. While it applauds NIH for taking what it calls "significant actions designed to redress the disparities," the panel warns that "ultimately, ... NIH will be judged on whether the disparities are reduced." It asks for an update next year on the situation.