NIH director Dr. Francis Collins participates in SMRB meeting on Dec. 7.
The TMAT working group, a subset of SMRB, presented four options to the full board, which was holding its 8th meeting. The group’s unanimous
favorite was option 2c, which would co-locate five major translational entities—the Molecular Libraries Program, the Therapeutics for Rare and Neglected Diseases Program, the Rapid Access to Interventional Development program, the NIH-FDA regulatory science initiative
and the Clinical and Translational Science
Awards program—plus the Cures Acceleration Network called for (but not yet funded) in health care reform legislation.
The Clinical Center was also evaluated as a candidate for inclusion, but not in the preferred option. A separate SMRB working group recommended that the CC remain intact, albeit with a new governance structure and funding
source (as a line item in the OD budget) and a new openness to extramural
Dr. Arthur Rubenstein, dean of the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, chaired the two SMRB working groups considering the fates of both the CC and NCRR. He viewed the TMAT recommendation as “a positive
and synergistic way of putting programs together,” but also allowed that “there’s never a perfect fit of blocks, one atop the other.” He also assured that the CC would “have strong functional
ties” to the proposed TMAT center.
NCRR director Dr. Barbara Alving warned that the SMRB might not have had adequate time to appreciate the range of NCRR’s activities, calling
it a “center of centers.” She cautioned about the budget implications of dismantling NCRR during an era of fiscal austerity. In her view, the MLP, RAID and TRND programs could be incorporated
into NCRR. But Rubenstein said there was never any serious consideration of making changes to the existing center. An entirely new center was the TMAT working group’s “default option...we thought about [modifying NCRR] only evanescently,” he said.
Dr. Arthur Rubenstein (r) of the University of Pennsylvania chaired two SMRB working groups that made recommendations Dec. 7. Norman Augustine (l) chairs the full board.
A dozen members of the public spoke in favor of NCRR’s virtues, urging that NIH at least slow down to consider the myriad implications of center deconstruction; Collins appointed NIH principal deputy director Dr. Lawrence Tabak and NICHD director Dr. Alan Guttmacher to lead a committee that would do a “deep dive, a more granular analysis” to assure that all details of forging a new TMAT entity out of NCRR are considered.
“The goal here is not to dismantle programs in place at NCRR, but to take advantage of…a better
match between structure and function,” Collins
said. “Protecting NCRR programs and people
is a goal.”
Those with concerns about the TMAT plan are invited to offer comments at http://feedback.nih.gov/, Collins said.
“This is a momentous occasion,” he concluded. “Creation of a new center doesn’t happen at NIH very often.” Most institutes arise out of political
considerations, he noted. “It’s rare to do it on the basis of scientific opportunity…I would call this ‘disruptive innovation’ on a grand scale. I’m quite excited about the potential.”
Collins declined to make a public decision on the TMAT recommendation, adding that HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius would need to concur
with any center-creation plan at NIH, as would Congress.