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Vol. LXIII, No. 1
January 7, 2011
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SMRB Recommends New TMAT Center

On the front page...

The Scientific Management Review Board voted 12-1 on Dec. 7 to recommend that NIH proceed with plans for a new translational medicine and therapeutics (TMAT) center at NIH that would effectively supplant the National Center for Research Resources. The SMRB asked that, in the 3 months before its spring 2011 meeting, NIH study the nuances of replacing NCRR with a new entity that would take advantage of burgeoning scientific opportunities in drug development.

NIH director Dr. Francis Collins hinted at the outset of the meeting that “gradual organizational evolution is not adequate…we need a ‘punctuated evolution’…I think structural changes are needed.”

He allowed that “change can be unsettling, but also exciting, empowering and challenging,” and is a natural consequence of scientific progress.

Continued...

NIH director Dr. Francis Collins participates in SMRB meeting on Dec. 7.

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 investigators.

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.

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. NIHRecord Icon


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