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Translational Medicine Working Group Votes to Create New Center; NCRR Under Review

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With a 12-to-1 vote, the Scientific Management Review Board decided in December to establish a new center at the National Institutes of Health that will focus on advancing translational science.

"We wanted to recommend that the NIH develop and provide research infrastructure for advancing translational medicine and therapeutics," Arthur Rubenstein, chair of the Translational Medicine and Therapeutics Working Group, said prior to the vote. "It should foster new and innovative approaches to TMAT research [and] to developing therapeutics including strengthening and streamlining the process."

This process began last May when NIH Director Francis Collins asked the review board to assess the state of translational research at NIH and how it could best be organized, and gave it until December to do so. The haste, according to Collins, was to be able to include any recommendations in NIH's budget request for 2012.

The working group suggested that the new center house the Clinical and Translational Science Awards, a program that creates homes for clinical and translational research at academic institutions. However, the board also suggested that the NIH Clinical Center remain separate from, though functionally related to, the new translational research center. The proposed center would also provide a home for the new Cures Acceleration Network, which was established as part of the health care reform bill — though it has yet to be funded by Congress — as well as the Therapeutics for Rare and Neglected Diseases program, the Rapid Access for Interventional Development program, and the Molecular Libraries Program.

The CTSAs make up about 40 percent of NIH's National Center for Research Resources programs. "[The new center] will require NCRR then to ... probably turn into something else," NCRR Director Barbara Alving said at the meeting. "Many of the programs will go into other entities at the NIH." Other programs at NCRR include the institutional development IDeA program, the Centers of Biomedical Research Excellence that supports research infrastructure, and comparative medicine resources programs.

During the public comment portion of the meeting, many requested that future discussions of the new center and reorganization at NIH consider the impact that its creation could have on NCRR. Mark Lively, who represented the National Advisory Research Resources Council, said, "The members of the NARRC really hope that the decisions that you make here today will not result in the extinction of some very valuable programs at the NCRR."

Collins has established a taskforce to evaluate the programs and where they would best fit in this new scheme. That review is being led by Lawrence Tabak and Alan Guttmacher. "The idea will be to review all of the existing NCRR programs, as well as programs elsewhere within the NIH, to get a sense for the NCRR programs, of what makes the most sense to put into the new center, and what makes sense to move to other portions of the NIH," Tabak said during a subsequent conference call with NCRR stakeholders. He added that this process would involve the participation of NCRR staff. According to NIH, the plan for the new translational medicine center will be sent to the Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius in early 2011 before it is presented to Congress. If accepted by Sebelius and Congress, the reorganization would occur in October 2011. Some stakeholders have since expressed concerns about how quickly NIH is moving with these changes.

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