The US National Institutes of Health has fielded a lot of skepticism regarding the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences. Many in the research and funding communities say drug discovery is best left to pharmaceutical and biotech companies and NIH should concentrate on its basic research mandate. As our sister publication GenomeWeb Daily News reported, NCATS recently signed a deal with three pharmaceutical companies to enable researchers to test drugs the companies discarded to see if they can be repurposed. Forbes contributor John LaMattina, former president of Pfizer R&D, is skeptical as to the chances of this program's success. "If pharmaceutical companies already have this covered, why are they agreeing to let the NIH have access to these compounds? Why not?" LaMattina says. "Basically, the NIH is providing free R&D for compounds that are no longer in development, despite the companies' best efforts. They have nothing to lose by letting the NIH sponsor this work." Maybe NIH will get lucky and find something, he adds, but even if that happens, this isn't really the best use of NIH's funding, given tight budgets.
At In the Pipeline, Derek Lowe says it's only a matter of time before everyone knows whether this project was a waste of time and money. However, he adds, even if NCATS succeeds in the drug discovery business, this isn't the most efficient way to do it. "I'd rather start with a compound that I know does what I want it to do, and then try to turn it into a drug (phenotypic screening)," Lowe says. "Starting with a compound that you know is a drug, but doesn't necessarily do what you want it to, is going to be tricky."