New NIH Center Mentioned in President’s Speech

On Saturday, September 17, President Obama gave at speech at Thomas Jefferson High School in the Virginia suburbs of Washington, DC while signing into law the America Invents Act, which among other things, restructured the nation’s patent process.  During his speech, President Obama said the following:

“We live in a world that is changing so rapidly, companies like the ones represented here today, they can set up shop anywhere where there’s an Internet connection.  And if we want startups here and if we want established companies like a Dupont or an Eli Lilly to continue to make products here and hire here, then we’re going to have to be able to compete with any other country around the world.

So this patent bill will encourage that innovation.  But there are other steps that we can take.  Today, for example, my administration is announcing a new center that will help companies reduce the time and cost of developing lifesaving drugs.  When scientists and researchers at the National Institutes of Health discover a new cure or breakthrough, we’re going to make it easier for startup companies to sell those products to the people who need them.  We got more than 100 universities and companies to agree that they’ll work together to bring more inventions to market as fast as possible.  And we’re also developing a strategy to create jobs in biotechnology, which has tremendous promise for health, clean energy and the environment.

Now, to help this country compete for new jobs and businesses, we also need to invest in basic research and technology, so the great ideas of the future will be born in our labs and in classrooms like these.  You guys have such an unbelievable head start already, but as you go to MIT and Cal Tech and UVA, and wherever else you guys are going to go, what you’re going to find is, is that the further you get along in your pursuits the more you’re going to be relying on research grants.  And government has always played a critical role in financing the basic research that, then, leads to all sorts of inventions.

So we’re going to have to make sure that we’re continuing to invest in basic research so you can do the work that you’re capable of — and still pay the rent, which is important, you will find out. (Laughter.)”

While not calling it by name, President Obama has now publicly endorsed the concept of NCATS.  The White House’s support goes beyond the sentences above.  In the official White House announcement of today’s bill signing, we find the following:

“Additional Initiatives Announced Today to Move Ideas from Lab to Market Launch of new National Institutes of Health (NIH) center to assist biotech entrepreneurs:  To help industry shorten the time needed and reduce costs for the development of new drugs and diagnostics, the NIH plans to establish a new National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS).  NCATS aims to help biomedical entrepreneurs by identifying barriers to progress and providing science-based solutions to reduce costs and the time required to develop new drugs and diagnostics. For example, as one of its initial activities, NCATS will partner with DARPA to support development of a chip to screen for safe and effective drugs far more swiftly and efficiently than current methods.”

Is NCATS Happening?

At the moment, there is no legal creation of the proposed National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences.  NIH has still yet to provide Congress with a budget request to fund NCATS, and the latest continuing resolution (CR) which will likely pass next week to fund the government through November 18th has no mention of, or funding for, NCATS.

Rep. Denny Rehberg (R-MT), chair of the House Appropriations subcommittee that provides funding for NIH, has publically expressed concern over the formation of NCATS and even requested NIH halt the search for a director of the center until further information is provided. However, Friday morning the NIH released a request for applicants who would like to be the director of the NCATS.

The NIH has also been more aggressive in their public discussions regarding the role of NCATS.  On Friday, the NIH announced a collaboration between NIH, DARPA and FDA to develop technologies to predict drug safety and efficacy, an effort which would be lead by NCATS.

As always, ASBMB staff will monitor developments and report the latest on this developing story.

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