New NIH Program Will Provide Grants for Translational Research
NIH on Wednesday announced a new program that will provide grants to research institutions to improve "translational research," a field in which basic discoveries are developed into practical medical treatments, the Washington Post reports. Medical professionals have expressed growing concern that research institutions are "ill-equipped to exploit practical applications of basic discoveries," according to the Post (Stein, Washington Post, 10/13).
Traditionally, pharmaceutical and medical companies have supported clinical research, but their efforts focus on discoveries with the greatest profit potential, which leaves "many possible treatments to universities and research institutions to develop," the Baltimore Sun reports. However, universities have relied on funding for their translational research programs from profit from caring for patients at their hospitals, a revenue source that has decreased as health insurers have reduced reimbursement rates.
In addition, the number of doctors and scientists entering the field of translational research has fallen (Rockoff, Baltimore Sun, 10/13).
The new program, outlined by NIH Director Elias Zerhouni in Thursday's New England Journal of Medicine, seeks to address translational research by earmarking $500 million annually from existing NIH programs to create 60 grants for institutions by 2012 (Washington Post, 10/13). Zerhouni described the program as an effort to consolidate existing clinical and research programs under NIH and speed the application of basic research.
The grants will be given to universities and private institutions to establish departments dedicated to translational research. Next year, NIH will award grants totaling $30 million for several new clinical research centers, according to Barbara Alving, acting director of NIH's National Center for Research Resources (Baltimore Sun, 10/13). The program also will earmark $11.5 million for 50 "planning grants" for institutions that currently are not prepared to submit full grant applications. The number of grants will increase each subsequent year.
In addition, the program will support efforts to ease regulatory approvals required to conduct clinical trials on patients and efforts to develop new ways to perform research.
Zerhouni said, "We are truly at a crossroads in medicine," adding, "The scientific advances of the past few years ... dictate that we act now to encourage fundamental changes in how we do clinical research and how we train the new generations of clinician scientists for the medical challenges of this century."
David Korn, a spokesperson for the Association of American Medical Colleges, said, "I think it's very exciting. It will be very interesting to see the kinds of proposals that come out" (Washington Post, 10/13).
Mendel Tuchman, vice chair for research at the Children's Research Institute in Washington, D.C., said, "It's one of the biggest changes to happen in clinical research in many, many years." He added, "It's all going to come down to future funding -- whether they will be able to sustain it."
Kevin Cullen, director of the cancer research center at the University of Maryland, said, "This may not completely solve the problem, but if it provides a pool of younger scientists to do this kind of work, then that will have been an enormous accomplishment" (Baltimore Sun, 10/13).
Richard Darling, a spokesperson for the FAIR Foundation, said, "With federal budgetary constraints eliminating NIH research funding increases, existing NIH funds must be redirected so that the goals of this new discipline are realized for all diseases and to ensure NIH allocations are fairer and more equitably distributed" (Washington Post, 10/13).
The NEJM outline of the program is available online.