Created by on 03/14/2011

On February 23, 2011, the Scientific Management Review Board (SMRB) met by conference call to review the task force recommendations for the National Center for Research Resources (NCRR) programs and the proposed National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences –

NCATS (click here to view the agenda). Lawrence Tabak, NIH Principal Deputy Director, presented an overview of the plans for NCRR programs, summarizing the NCRR Task Force recommendations (available here).
The revised recommendations differ significantly from the “Straw Model” (released January 16, 2011). The most notable change being the decision to make the Interim Infrastructure Unit, provisionally called the “Infrastructure Entity”, into a permanent part of the Office of the Director (OD). This is consistent with the recommendations in FASEB’s February 2, 2011 letter, which stated that NCRR programs should “be placed in an organization dedicated to management of research resources intended to be used by the entire NIH community.” Within OD, the new entity would be housed in the Division of Program Coordination, Planning, and Strategic Initiatives.
Thomas Insel, National Institutes of Mental Health Director, then presented an update from the Institute and Center (IC) Directors Working Group on the proposed creation of NCATS. Dr. Insel reviewed the charge of the Working Group to develop the mission, functions, and organization of NCATS. After seven meetings, the Working Group decided that NCATS should not include any additional programs beyond the original SMRB recommendations. Regarding the NCATS mission, Dr. Insel said that the Working Group kept in mind that the ICs already supported translational research and that those programs were not to be disrupted (a major concern for FASEB and others in the extramural research community). As such, he said that the mission would advance the discipline of translational research and the process of development of therapeutics and diagnostics, and would therefore enhance the translational research programs of the ICs.
In a related development, it was announced that the NCRR Division of Comparative Medicine (DCM) will remain intact but not be placed within NCATS. FASEB’s February 2nd letter recommended that DCM be retained. Gail Cassell (formerly of Eli Lilly and now at Harvard Medical School) told the SMRB that there had been a lot of criticism of the original straw model proposal to break up DCM and send individual programs to different locations. She asked Dr. Tabak if the new plan to keep DCM together was firm. Dr. Tabak acknowledged that the initial proposal split up the Division, but that the “community provided compelling reasons to keep this program intact.”
During the public comment period representatives of various groups made statements about the NCRR and NCATS proposals. Judith Van Houten (University of Vermont and also a member of FASEB’s NIH Issues Subcommittee) spoke as the representative of the Institutional Development Awards (IDeA) program principal investigators group and told the SMRB that the IDeA community is pleased to be in National Institute of General Medical Sciences. Amy Comstock Rick (Parkinson’s Action Network) noted that many groups had criticized the speed with which the changes were being made and complained that no one is looking at the consequences of inaction, arguing that there are real problems in translational research that are going unaddressed. She stated that in this difficult fiscal environment, “disunity will hurt us on the Hill.” Speakers from two other patient groups, The Genetic Alliance and FasterCures, also spoke in support of NCATS.

At the conclusion of the call, Arthur Rubenstein (Dean of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania) asked Dr. Tabak if the “anxieties of the community have been allayed.” Noting that the task force recommendations had just been posted the day before the meeting, Dr. Tabak acknowledged that “it remains to be seen if they are acceptable.” He noted that there will be a town hall meeting with stakeholders on March 16, 2011, and more will be known about the community’s reaction at that time.