NCATS Budget Details Finally Released

Months after recommending the creation of the National Center for the Advancement of Translational Science, the National Institutes of Health have finally outlined the expected budget for the new entity.  On Monday, Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius sent a letter to Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, chairman of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies (which funds the NIH) detailing the expected budgetary outlays for NCATS in FY12.  Importantly, though the letter will likely allay some concerns by clarifying the agency’s expectations, it does not represent an official budget request to congressional appropriations committees, leaving the fate of NCATS unresolved.

According to the draft, the budget for NCATS in FY12 would be $722 million, with over $553 million coming from programs currently located in the National Center for Research Resources, the bulk of which would be provided by the Clinical and Translational Science Awards program.  The Therapeutics for Rare and Neglected Diseases program, currently housed in the National Human Genome Research Institute, will receive $50 million, up from its current allocation of $24 million. $100 million will be provided for the Cures Acceleration Network, which was congressionally authorized (but not appropriated) in 2010.

The letter also details how the various components of NCRR will be re-allocated within NIH, with program placements essentially matching the proposed model released by NIH in February.  The big budgetary “winner” will be the National Institute of General Medical Sciences, which will see an increase of nearly $350 million in its budget as it inherits the Institutional Development Awards program.  The Office of the Director, which will subsume several educational and resource programs from NCRR, will receive an additional $184 million in FY12.

The letter is intended to mollify growing concerns over the NIH’s intentions surrounding NCATS that had lingered since the proposal for reorganizing the agency first surfaced last December.  Despite a including a thorough description of NCATS in their FY12 budget request, the NIH conspicuously omitted any fiduciary details, leading to speculation that the agency was unprepared to go forward with the plan by the start of FY12 on October 1 of this year. In a hearing last month, Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., also expressed concern about the lack of a budget for the planned center. Though NIH has now provided the first glimpse of these details, unless Congress is able to pass appropriations bills this year, NCATS will remain a pipe dream.

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