Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), has announced a plan to create a new program to jump-start the development of new drugs and therapies. The new National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences will have the mission of trying to bring promising basic NIH research closer to clinical trials. To make this happen, cuts in other NIH programs will have to be made. One program, the National Center for Research Resources, which awards grants to fund researchers and equipment, is on the chopping block. Is this is a trade-off worth trying?
The push to find new drugs has stalled badly over the past decade. Few new therapies have emerged from the NIH’s research efforts involving mental illness, for example—with no real breakthroughs against Alzheimer’s, schizophrenia, severe depression, or any other major disorders. Nor has much progress been made in the fight against Parkinsonism, diabetes, obesity, stroke, tuberculosis, lung cancer, multiple sclerosis, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Huntington’s, muscular dystrophy, sickle cell, or ovarian cancer, despite many billions spent by the NIH on research and many billions more raised through charitable giving.