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A Better Process

The role of the new — and contentious — National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences is to "develop, demonstrate, and then disseminate improvements" to the process of translating basic findings to the clinic, NCATS chief Chris Austin tells ScienceInsider. That process, he adds, is ruled by "trial and error" and "has never been subjected to the scientific method."

Critics of NCATS, like Roy Vagelos, the former CEO of Merck, say that the center won't be able to improve on pharma's processes. Austin, though, counters that NCATS isn't as tied to the bottom line. "I don't think it's a matter that companies haven't thought of these things. It's just that these are things which don't generate revenue in the near term," he says.

In addition, he tells ScienceInsider that his goal for NCATS is for it to improve the efficiency of the translational process, which will be gauged by a number of metrics.