Cures Acceleration Network & NIH Reauthorization Act of 2009

Arlen Specter is at it again.

His recently introduced bill, the Cures Acceleration Network and National Institutes of Health Reauthorization Act of 2009 (S. 914), would create an independent agency – the Cures Acceleration Network (CAN) – outside of DHHS to “identify and promote revolutionary advances in basic research, translating scientific discoveries from bench to bedside.” (and the NIH does what exactly?)

The bill also elevates the NCMHD (minority health/health disparities) to institute status and authorizes appropriations for NIH at $40 billion for FY 2010 and “such sums as may be necessary” for FYs 2011 and 2012.

The CAN would fund “independent investigators, research organizations, biotechnology companies, academic research institutions, and other entities … to accelerate the development of cures and treatments.” Cures Acceleration Grant Awards would provide up to $15 million per year per project with no requirement for matching funds. The Cures Acceleration Partnership Awards also provide up to $15 million per year but require a 1:3 match by grantees. The first year appropriation would be $1 billion per award program.

Sounds damn appealing. The governance part is less so. CSR study sections would review grant applications, though the second level of review would come from the 24-member CAN Board of Directors (appointed by the President) rather than NIH ICs. The AAMC summarizes who would serve at the President’s pleasure on this Board:

The board would include at least one individual “who is eminent” in each of the following fields: basic research, medicine, biopharmaceuticals, discovery and delivery of medical products, bioinformatics and gene therapy, medical instrumentation, and regulatory review and approval of medical products. The board also would include at least 4 leaders in professional venture capital or private equity organizations who have demonstrated experience in private equity investing and at least 8 individuals representing disease advocacy organizations. Representatives from NIH, the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs, the VHA, the NSF, and the FDA would serve as ex officio members.

Hmmm. Sounds like a proposal that should be triaged to me.



  1. CAN is an apt name for this cockamamie idea, as that is where this is going to end up once some real biomed/medical policy people explain what a clusterfuck of fuckwittitude this would surely end up being. I have a feeling that maybe Specter is proposing this shit to gain more leverage over internal NIH operations, and not to really create this monstrosity.

  2. Neuro-conservative said

    Why do I keep reading your headline as “Curses Acceleration Network”?

    :-O – writedit

  3. BB said

    I read it the same way that Neuro-Conservative did.
    Maybe changing parties addled Specter. Who knows?
    Agree with CPP.

  4. whimple said

    Specter’s heart is in the right place. His big concern is cancer, and basic science research on cancer (where you get to work on whatever problem interests you and maybe eventually someone will come up with something useful it could do and then eventually someone else will actually make it do that something useful) has largely failed to return much benefit to the taxpayers funding the work. There was a nice article on this recently in the New York Times —

    If reinforcing failure is a characteristic of the insane, then to paraphrase Bill Murray in Groundhog Day, “Anything different is good.” and Specter’s new approach is worth a shot.

    Agreed on heart being in right place and the nice NYT article. The concept itself is not bogus – they do need to try an alternative to doling out crumbs piecemeal. However, just imagine the prior President appointing 24 “eminent” Board members (just a coincidence so many were found at Halliburton). Given the stimulus fiasco unfolding before our eyes, I also would not want to see another $2 billion hustled out the door in the first year without thoughtful consideration of how these massive research programs might be structured for success (versus same old, same old by Dr. Big Cheeze at Major Name University) and even greater deliberation on the approaches taken and questions tackled. As Comrade PP pointed out, “great advances … almost always made incidentally and fortuitously during the pursuit of ordinary science” (versus in an effort to accelerate development of cures). Specter’s approach reflects D’s wise insight: “it [e.g., developing cures] sounds much better when speaking to Congress than “Funding Excellent Random Science and Hope Something Useful Comes Out of It.” – writedit

  5. BB said

    I’m shocked that erudite people write about cancer as if it is a single disease. Where to begin…. Consider the genotypic changes found in many breast cancers but none have been found in multiple myeloma. There are huge behavioral/environmental risk factors for skin and lung cancers, but none for multiple myeloma or pancreatic cancer. And still, tanning booths are big-business, rather than outlawed by the FDA.
    In actuality, the mortality for many typers of cancer has decreased drastically in the past 30 years (hemopoietic cancers especially). Pancreatic cancer would likely have a reasonable cure rate if it were detected at an earlier stage. The NY Times article is therefore flawed and present an inaccurate picture, IMHO.

  6. BikeMonkey said

    NYT article gets the science wrong? no wai!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    I’m shocked. Shocked I tell you!

  7. BB said

    B_M, just read Jane Brody in the Science Times section. It’s not even science.

  8. NIH parasite/Eminent researcher said


    I am sure all of you think you are oh so sophisticated, but really, you are not. Things are more complicated than you or I want to believe and when the government sinks $120B into R&D, they will and have a right to expect something for the money. Those of you who are independently wealthy are perfectly free to do your research on your own dime. This approach has led to at least one Nobel Prize I know of, so not a bad investment. The rest of us may have to justify what we do on occasion. So be it.

    Having followed NIH funding and research trends as far back as the Nixon era, and with a few years in the game myself, the most reliable bet is on the ability of NIH and its reviewers and grantees to screw up when they get money and then screw up when they don’t. I perfectly understand Specter and others in Congress who are enthusiastic supporters of NIH, but would like to see some outcomes research actually feed back and affect funding policy. They are frustrated, and for good reason.

    For many of these guys, it’s like you spending money on your kid. You may love them unconditionally, but you still want to see what it bought. I am sure many of you are paying or looking forward to absurd private tuition bills for your kids at schools like mine. Do you want to know what you are paying for or are you satisfied that educating your kid is very, very expensive and you don’t need to know more than that?

    So, as your Dean might say, please be nice to the parents. They pay the bills.


  9. D said

    And yet, I could argue that the public has gotten a lot for its money. Just add up the value of the top ten biotech companies in this country. Without the basic research supported by NIH none of these companies would exist. Then consider the hundreds of small biotech start ups, the huge majority of which got their start from an idea generated by an NIH or NSF grant. These companies employee hundreds of thousands of people. It might not be a cure for cancer but it is a nice return nonetheless.

    Now you can complain that we haven’t cured “cancer” yet. But, as BB pointed out we have made a dent and the death rate for cancers is declining in the US (see for example That is not counting drugs to treat AIDS, vaccines against HPV (which might mostly prevent cervical cancer), new antibiotics, diagnostics to detect very early stage cancers..etc.

    So, if you ask your kid what your investment has bought be prepared to get an answer that may surprise you. It has bought more than you can imagine. Maybe not what you expected or wanted but success nonetheless.

    So, please be kind to your kids. They will be supporting you in your dotage.


    Agreed. The return on investment has been phenomenal and, in a Mastercard moment, priceless, as in incalculable. – writedit

  10. […] 4, 2010 at 6:31 pm · Filed under NIH Advice, Research News As I noted last spring, NIH Stimulus Patron Arlen Specter introduced the concept of the Cures Acceleration Network (CAN) […]

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