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Vol. LXIV, No. 1
January 6, 2012

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NIH Launches New Translational Science Center

On the front page...

Establishment of the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences marks the start of a new era for NIH and translational science. Congress approved NCATS with the fiscal year 2012 spending bill and the President signed it into law on Dec. 23, 2011.

“Millions of people are looking to science to deliver new and better ways to detect, treat and prevent disease,” said NIH director Dr. Francis Collins. “Joining some of the best and brightest minds into NCATS is an important step in making the most of current scientific opportunities, examining the therapeutic development pipeline in a new way and breaking down some of the barriers to translating discoveries into clinical advances for patients.”

The new center will gather existing NIH programs into an integrated scientific enterprise with new leadership. NCATS’s mission is to develop innovative methods and technologies designed to reduce, remove or bypass bottlenecks in delivering new drugs, diagnostics and medical devices to patients with a wide range of diseases and conditions.

Collins announced that as NIH continues its search for a permanent NCATS director, the transition of people and programs will move forward under the leadership of NIMH director Dr. Tom Insel as NCATS acting director and Dr. Kathy Hudson, NIH deputy director for science, outreach, and policy, as NCATS acting deputy director.


NIMH director Dr. Tom Insel will serve as NCATS acting director.
NIMH director Dr. Tom Insel will serve as NCATS acting director.

“Certainly all of us have been the patient or watched loved ones deal with illness, so we know that despite many incredible advances in medicine, there are still limitations,” said Insel. “The goal of NCATS is to fix the parts of the pipeline that aren’t working well to get safer and more effective medicines to patients faster. Who wouldn’t embrace that?”

NCATS’s creation ends uncertainty for employees whose programs were slated for transition.

“We have not been able to tell staff where they would be going and we know this has been very hard on a lot of dedicated and wonderful staff,” Hudson said. “We are so glad to finally get to the point where folks can get to know their new co-workers, share thoughts and plan great things.”

Richard Southers, associate director for strategic management in the NIH Office of Human Resources, said employees will move in their current positions to their new IC and any changes in job function would occur after that move.

“A large majority of employees will actually still be doing work that is the same or very similar to their current job,” said Southers. “The biggest transition issue will be adjusting to a new IC and its culture.”

Strong communication will be a key element of NCATS’s culture, said Hudson. “From the outset, we will encourage everyone to break the invisible barriers of program boxes and to think as one cohesive team,” she said.

NCATS leadership anticipates a transition period and noted the valuable perspective incoming staff members bring.

“They know the pitfalls and the parts of the process that need to be fixed,” Hudson said. “I understand that the folks who are coming to work in NCATS have been immersed in other programs, some of them for many years, and it’s not trivial to change hats with the snap of a finger.”

Insel and Hudson will be hosting a town hall meeting for NCATS employees in the near future. “We want to welcome everyone with open arms and share our excitement,” Insel said.

What Programs Will Be Part of NCATS?

Programs that will be integrated into NCATS, in alphabetical order, include:

  • Bridging Interventional Development Gaps, which makes available critical resources needed for the development of new therapeutic agents

  • Clinical and Translational Science Awards, which fund a national consortium of 60 medical research institutions working together to improve the way clinical and translational research is conducted nationwide

  • Cures Acceleration Network, which enables NCATS to fund research in new and innovative ways

  • FDA-NIH Regulatory Science, which is an interagency partnership that aims to accelerate the development and use of better tools, standards and approaches for developing and evaluating diagnostic and therapeutic products

  • Components of the Molecular Libraries, which is an initiative that provides researchers with access to the large-scale screening capacity necessary to identify compounds that can be used as chemical probes to validate new therapeutic targets

  • Office of Rare Diseases Research, which coordinates and supports rare diseases research

  • Therapeutics for Rare and Neglected Diseases, which is a program to encourage and speed the development of new drugs for rare and neglected diseases

The NIH Clinical and Translational Science Awards, previously part of the National Center for Research Resources, will be a large portion of NCATS’s budget and serve as a primary test bed for NCATS activities.

NCRR’s remaining programs will move to other ICs, including NIGMS, NIBIB, NIMHD and OD, to take advantage of existing synergies within their portfolios and missions.

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