Sharper focus. A new report outlines goals for NIH’s translational science centers, such as the one directed by S. Claiborne Johnston at the University of California, San Francisco.

NIH-NCATS

Sharper focus. A new report outlines goals for NIH’s translational science centers, such as the one directed by S. Claiborne Johnston at the University of California, San Francisco.

How to Succeed in Translational Science

Jocelyn is a staff writer for Science magazine.

An advisory group today offered the National Institutes of Health (NIH) some suggestions for how to frame metrics for evaluating its vast $475 million consortium of translational research centers—such as the need to define what it takes to be a translational scientist. But it’s leaving the details of those metrics to NIH staff.

The Clinical and Translational Science Awards (CTSAs) are large grants (from about $4 million to $23 million a year) for training programs, regulatory staff, and other support for bench-to-bedside research at academic medical centers. Last June, among other recommendations, an Institute of Medicine (IOM) panel found that the 60 or so CTSAs were trying to do too much and needed to specialize. The panel also called for NIH’s National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS), which funds the CTSAs, to be more directly involved in overseeing them.

Some of those recommendations are already being addressed—for example, in February NCATS replaced the CTSAs’ sprawling committee structure with a streamlined 15-member steering committee. NCATS staff members have also taken on getting the centers to focus on their individual strengths. But NCATS asked a working group of its advisory committee for help with a key part of how to do that—developing “meaningful, measurable goals and outcomes for the CTSA program,” according to the working group’s draft report released today.

The report defines four strategic goals—workforce development, collaboration/engagement, integration, and methods/processes—and lists dozens of “measurable objectives.” For example, to achieve workforce development, the CTSAs should define “core competencies” for a translational science workforce. To expand collaboration, the CTSAs should develop methods to “effectively engage relevant and diverse stakeholders,” such as patient groups and the Food and Drug Administration. To improve integration, CTSAs need to develop treatments for special populations, such as children and minorities. A fourth goal, methods/process, might include finding ways to conduct a clinical trial faster.

However, the report doesn’t flesh out specific metrics for evaluating the CTSAs. “I see elements of measurement” but not how they would be “part of the evaluation process,” said one NCATS adviser, Tadataka Yamada, executive vice president of Takeda Pharmaceuticals International, today during the report’s rollout at a joint meeting of the NCATS council and another board.

Working group co-chair Mary Disis of the University of Washington, Seattle, explained that the report offers “a template for metrics and evaluation.” Added NCATS Director Christopher Austin, “I see this as a translational step from the IOM report to what we now need to do.”

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