Created by on 6/20/2011 12:00:00 AM

The agenda for the 102nd meeting of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Advisory Committee to the Director (ACD), which took place on June 9th-10th in Bethesda, MD, covered a wide range of topics, beginning with a review of NIH Common Fund initiatives. The Fund, established by the 2006 NIH Reform Act, supports cross-cutting, trans-NIH programs that require participation by at least two NIH Institutes or Centers (ICs) or would otherwise benefit from strategic planning and coordination. Examples of Common Fund initiatives include the human microbiome project, developing novel methods to elucidate the structure of membrane proteins, studying the toxicological effects of the Gulf oil spill, and the Early Independence Award program, which is aimed at facilitating the transition of scientists into independent research positions.

Next Dr. Collins and his staff reviewed the budget outlook for NIH. They noted that the situation is especially challenging because the nation is facing significant fiscal constraints, the House and Senate are not on the same working schedules and both have many freshman members, and there is no regular order of congressional operations. In the face of these hurdles, NIH has taken a multi-pronged approach to educating Congress about the importance of federal support for biomedical research. This includes holding one-on-one discussions with lawmakers, taking advantage of opportunities to meet with Members at sponsored events, speaking to congressional affinity groups, and arranging for interested Representatives to tour the NIH campus. The main messages Dr. Collins is conveying to Congress during these meetings are that there are unprecedented translational research opportunities, federal funding for NIH is critical for advancing basic research, and support for research is important for maintaining global competitiveness.
In the midst of this funding shortfall, the agency is undergoing a significant reorganization. Drs. Larry Tabak and Kathy Hudson updated the ACD on the most recent organizational shuffle: the proposed creation of the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS), the disintegration of the National Center for Research Resources (NCRR), and the realignment of the programs NCRR supports. As part of the realignment effort, NIH is conducting a pilot survey of institutions holding NCRR supported Clinical and Translational Science Awards (CTSAs) to assess which components of the CTSA program support the mission of NCATS and which do not. NIH is also in the process of combining the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism and the National Institute on Drug Abuse into a single institute on substance use, abuse, and addiction. An agency task force is expected to complete its analysis of the NIH portfolio relevant to the new institute’s mission, develop a final portfolio integration plan, and develop a strategic plan with input from stakeholders in time for the establishment of the new institute in 2013.
Changes in the way that the agency trains scientists and supports laboratory staffing may also be on the way. NIH is embarking upon a study to examine current and future biomedical research workforce needs, considering issues such as the optimal size of the workforce, the kinds of training NIH should provide, the type of positions it should support, and the best way to support them. The agency anticipates issuing a request for information at the end of June to gather input to inform its efforts.
The ACD also learned about NIH’s efforts to rescue and repurpose drugs that have failed in clinical trials. According to Dr. Amy Patterson, 51 percent of Phase II and 66 percent of Phase III drug candidates fail due to lack of efficacy, but many of these drugs can be put to other uses. NIH hopes to take a more strategic and comprehensive approach to this effort by working with industry to overcome barriers to drug rescue and repurposing such as a shortage of access to compounds and associated expertise, safety and liability concerns, absence of an umbrella framework and master agreements that can be tailored for specific projects, and lack of incentives for industry and academic sector participation.
In the final session of the open portion of the meeting, Drs. Sally Rockey and John Gallin described efforts underway to make NIH Clinical Center resources available to the extramural community, facilitate collaboration between intramural and extramural investigators, and improve the Bench-to-Beside awards program. Additional information about the advisory group and its meetings can be obtained from the ACD website (Day 1 and Day 2).