Created by on 1/31/2011 12:00:00 AM

The Scientific Management Review Board , the body that advises the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Director on structural and organization issues, recently recommended the creation of a new center − the National Center for Advancing Translational Science (NCATS) − that would consolidate several extant trans-NIH translational research support and coordination programs. NIH has also decided to dissolve the National Center for Research Resources (NCRR) and reassign its portfolio to other institutes or centers. On February 2, 2011, FASEB issued recommendations highlighting the value of NIH research resources and arguing that if the NCRR is dissolved, its programs should be placed in an organizational structure dedicated to the management of trans-NIH research resources.

FASEB’s latest letter reiterates apprehensions articulated in our previous statements regarding the unprecedented speed with which decisions are being made and the lack of substantial, initial consultation with the research community. The statement comments on the importance of preserving both the missions and budgets of NCRR programs, which “perform important functions in the biomedical research enterprise ranging from the development of research technologies to providing science education resources” that transcend disease or organ-specific programmatic boundaries.
Since the Department of Health and Human Services, of which NIH is an agency, officially notified Congress (authorizers and appropriators) on January 14, 2011of its plans to establish NCATS and dissolve NCRR, there has been growing concern. Prior to the notification of Congress, 1105 comments had been posted on http://feedback.nih.gov/, a web portal designed to distribute information and collect input from the biomedical research community. Although some praised NIH efforts to accelerate the translation of basic research discovery into therapeutic interventions through the creation of NCATS, many others expressed great apprehension over the capacity of NIH to succeed in this new endeavor and the potential damage that could be done to NCRR programs.
After the release of the draft reorganizational plan (“NCRR Task Force straw model”), many in the research community, including FASEB, participated in a series of stakeholder conference calls to specifically discuss the realignment of NCRR programs. Participants on these calls echoed many of the concerns expressed on http://feedback.nih.gov/.
Concurrently, several articles were published in the scientific and national press that highlighted misgivings over the plans of NIH. Among the most prominent was a January 22, 2011 New York Times article. The article questioned the budgetary implications of the creation of NCATS and the appropriate role of the federal government in the development of medical therapeutics. Days later, Science Insider published a letter from John Bartrum, a staffer on the House of Representatives Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies, the House subcommittee that funds NIH, which included a long list of pointed questions about the proposed NIH reorganizational plans. The major thrust of the letter was whether or not there had been an appropriate level of congressional involvement in the process.
NIH expects to release finalized reorganizational plans during the February 23, 2011 SMRB teleconference along with an evaluation of the impact of the creation of NCATS on extant NIH programs, including NCRR.