Collins: NCRR Must Go

Update: Collins et al. have added a post to the NCATS comment page entitled, Separating Fact & Fiction: News about the proposed National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (full text included below).

Update: The “General Call” was not especially enlightening, at least what I heard. Others are welcome to chime in with their 2 cents (contributions go toward the interim infrastructure unit payline).

Second, the NCRR Advisory Council Meeting is tomorrow (Tues, Jan 25). The open portion will be videocast, and the agenda item of most interest will likely be from 8:30-9:30 a.m., when Larry Tabak presents the SMRB recommendation to create NCATS. Oddly, there is no agenda item about the dissolution of NCRR. Perhaps that is reserved for the closed portion fireworks display.

Considering Collins’ interview with Jocelyn Kaiser, the solicitation for input seems more than a tad disingenuous:

Q: What do the letters to Congress say? [Jan 14]
F.C.: That there is a proposal to create a new entity at NIH, the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS), and also a proposal to take the existing programs within the [NCRR] and distribute them around to other parts of NIH.

Q: So you’re going to no longer have an NCRR?
F.C.: That’s right.

Okee dokee, Francis. I guess none of the other possibilities you hinted at last month panned out:

Asked if the NCRR would be dissolved under the new proposal, Collins told Nature: “That is a possibility, but it’s not the only possibility.”

And what were the other possibilities, exactly? Well, clearly a moot point now in any case.

Somehow, I missed the part where SMRB recommended redistributing the rest of NCRR programs throughout the NIH. Or, wait, I guess there wasn’t one after all:

As far as the NCRR implications, the SMRB did not get engaged at any level of detail in considering that other than, of course, they recommended that the CTSAs [Clinical and Translational Science Awards], the largest program within NCRR, should move into the new center. …

Collins insists he could not seek public input on the elimination of NCRR until after he proposed it to Congress (but he could seek input on creating a new Center in advance of Congressional notification … not to mention the SMRB-approved merger of NIAAA and NIDA):

Q: It’s not making sense to me that you cannot consult on it until you’ve notified [Congress], but that means you’ve made the decision without consulting with the community first.
F.C.: Well [laughs], this is the government, remember. It is very clear in the legislation that we can’t actually make announcements or seek public input until Congress has been notified.

I grant you, that is a somewhat unfortunate circumstance. In my best of all worlds, I would have wanted to have the chance to have a lot more discussion about this before that kind of announcement.

Oh yes … giggle giggle … a most unfortunate circumstance. Collins goes on:

Q: Some people seem to think you need to keep all these things together. Why not just keep them within a smaller NCRR?
F.C.: I think you would tend to have gotten awfully small and maybe not even to the point of making a lot of sense. … You begin to wonder why have we created that kind of administration support structure for such a small number of programs.

Hello? Before the Great Zerhouni, NCRR staff had enough to do to keep them off the streets and out of the pool halls. In fact, IMHO, they are one of the best-run shops at the NIH. I wish more ICs looked to NCRR in modeling their administrative support structure. Willie McCullough and Esmail Torashvan ran incredibly helpful C06 and G20 application workshops and were unfailing in their support of the extramural community in getting these right.

Q: But if you kept them all together [except for the CTSAs], it wouldn’t be that small.
F.C.: I think even if the CTSAs were not driving this process, you could make a strong argument. For instance, the RCMI [a resource program for minority institutions] would belong more appropriately in the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities than it does in NCRR.

Can I just say my experience in working on EXPORT applications and dealing with NCMHD (now NIMHD) was at the other end of the spectrum from working on NCRR applications? Not that NIMHD does not have good intentions and folks who work hard to address health disparities, but good intentions do not represent the best management plan for hundreds of millions of dollars. (I did feel better when Joyce Hunter moved over there from NIDDK though.) Looking at their Website and logo, I am unclear even when their transition to an Institute will become final.

Anyway, according to Collins, it will be all over but the shouting by the end of February:

Q: You said last month that you thought you might be able to get some special permission from Congress to have 28 institutes for 1 year.
F.C.: And I didn’t even ask, because I don’t think it’s the right thing to do.

Q: What’s the timetable for all this?
F.C.: We need to present the straw model to the SMRB, which is going to be on February 23. There is within NIH a plan to have final recommendations about how to restructure by the end of February.

Wow. Redistributing NCRR. Apparently the right thing to do.

And so, according to Collins’ quotes in an NYT article on NCATS, is redistributing IC funds:

Republicans in the House have promised to cut the kind of discretionary domestic spending that supports the health institutes, and officials are already bracing for significant cuts this year. But Dr. Collins has hinted that he is willing to cannibalize other parts of the health institutes to bring more resources to the new center.

“There are some people that would say this is not the time to do something bold and ambitious because the budget is so tight,” he said. “But we would be irresponsible not to take advantage of scientific opportunity, even if it means tightening in other places.”

No, we would not want to be irresponsible.


  1. AH said

    “he could not seek public input on the elimination of NCRR until after he proposed it to Congress (but he could seek input on creating a new Center in advance of Congressional notification … not to mention the SMRB-approved merger of NIAAA and NIDA”

    It sounds as if Collins is being recently educated at “The Land of Arbitrariness For Convenient Congressional Notification”….Gee…, maybe he is on drugs….or somebody is drugging him. This kind of delusional vision on NCRR elimination “scientific opportunity” for the scientific community and the public….. that cannot wait because it might be too late….. Come on Francis !, RAZZLE-DAZZLE them… Are you out of your mind thinking that your excitement is going to fly? If you did not have enough with the 1100 expressions of concern and discontent, there has been a Grand Jury meeting at New York Times yesterday…!

    Asked if the NCRR would be dissolved under the new proposal, Collins told Nature: “That is a possibility, but it’s not the only possibility.”…

    Of course not. Another possibility (instead) is to dismantle NCI and re-distribute it into all institutes because cancer is GLOBAL and will make the whole NIH multidisciplinarily translational in shape and function..

    This is all NONSENSE and I wish that Francis retreated himself to a solace place and think about this 24-weeks hidden pregnancy. You could come up with a translational alternative for a healthy, abortion-proof, initiative.

  2. writedit said

    Well, after 25 min of questions, and after allowing no more than 3.76 seconds for call participants to register a new question once the original queue had been answered (probably not enough time for anyone to even hit star-1 as instructed by the call moderator), the General Call was brought to a hasty conclusion, with the main point being that there were no plans to eliminate NCRR programs. Of course, there originally wasn’t a definite plan to eliminate NCRR … but I actually do trust the NIH to keep these programs going in some form or another. Harvard had an interesting question about current and upcoming grant application submissions in response to NCRR RFAs and PAs (C06, K23, P20, P30, P40, P41, R01, R21, R24, S10, X02 mechanisms). Applicants were told to respond to the RFA or PA itself and not try to anticipate a change in funding venue. The critical issue of what PO to contact with questions, aims to review, insight on program priorities, etc. was not addressed. Somehow, I suspect NCRR POs will be a tad more concerned about securing a job in this brave new world, and rightly so …

    Oh, and there was also mention of stakeholders (brought up in the context of IDeA states but a useful strategy for anyone not happy with the NIH’s cavalier treatment of NCRR and NCATS) contacting their Congressional delegation (especially Senators) to register their concern about NCRR being railroaded into oblivion. A word to the wise …

  3. SPIEGEL: Some scientist don’t rule out a belief in God. Francis Collins, for example …

    Venter: … That’s his issue to reconcile, not mine. For me, it’s either faith or science – you can’t have both.

    SPIEGEL: So you don’t consider Collins to be a true scientist?

    Venter: Let’s just say he’s a government administrator.

  4. Victoria said

    Yes. Believing in God is Francis Collins’s issue to reconcile. And he has the option and the right to do it if he so chooses.

    Yes. He is a government administrator who knows the science. And should create the conditions and support the science for scientists who work tirelessly to improve people’s life without restrictions.

  5. Victoria said

    And the evidence is that BigPharma only cares about increasing their revenues using scientists and clinicians to help selling their good and, at times, dangerous medicines by giving them seductive sums of money, encouraging institutions to pay their high administrators huge salaries and pensions and laying off dedicated creative scientists who play by the rules. If science is evidence, a scientist and government administrator should not make deals with gods making promises against the overwhelming evidence.

  6. writedit said

    Separating Fact & Fiction: News about the proposed National Center for Advancing Translational SciencesPosted on January 24th, 2011

    By now, many of you have read the recent New York Times article or related news coverage, about NIH’s plan to establish the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS).

    While we are pleased that the news media have recognized NIH’s efforts as a significant development for translational research, the Times article contains some misleading statements that we would like to clarify. Those statements suggest that a much larger shakeup of NIH is underway than is actually contemplated.

    So, to set the record straight, we want to share with you what we know at this point in time:

    • The proposal for NCATS is that it will be assembled primarily from existing programs within the National Center for Research Resources (NCRR), the NIH Common Fund, and the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI).
    • NCATS is not intended to be a drug company. It is a facilitator of translational research across the NIH and complementary to translational research already being conducted and supported on a large scale in the individual NIH Institutes and Centers. NCATS will seek ways to leverage science to bring new ideas and materials to the attention of industry by demonstrating their value.
    • The final budget for the proposed center is unknown at the present time. For the most part, the budget and staff for each relocated program will remain with that program. Thus, the overall budget for NCATS will be the sum of the imported programs—an amount much smaller than the several billion dollars currently being spent on translational research by existing Institutes and Centers.
    • There are no plans to “cannibalize” the budgets or programs of other NIH Institutes and Centers to form NCATS.
    • NIH remains committed to continued support for basic, translational, and clinical research. The new Center will bring several existing efforts together in new ways to enhance the ability of all NIH Institutes and Centers to perform research that leads to the development of drugs, diagnostics, devices, vaccines, and strategies for prevention.

    We are working together to develop important details of these plans and are gathering information from a wide range of internal and external stakeholders. This information will be used to shape NIH’s final vision for NCATS. Until that information is systematically and objectively evaluated, the plan for NCATS remains a work in progress.

    However, one thing is certain: NIH will continue to seek out new ways to advance our common cause—improving human health through science—even in difficult budgetary times. Every NIH Institute and Center is pursuing novel, imaginative plans of its own, and the creation of NCATS is just one of many exciting initiatives that we, working collectively, hope to achieve this year.

    Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D., Director, National Institutes of Health


    Eric Green, M.D., Ph.D., Director, National Human Genome Research Institute (co-chair)
    Thomas Insel, M.D., Director, National Institute of Mental Health (co-chair)
    Josephine Briggs, M.D., Director, National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine
    Anthony Fauci, M.D., Director, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases
    Alan Guttmacher, M.D., Director, National Institute of Child Health and Human Development
    Story Landis, Ph.D., Director, National Institute of Neurological Diseases and Stroke
    Griffin Rodgers, M.D., MACP, Director, National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases
    Harold Varmus, M.D., Director, National Cancer Institute
    Kathy Hudson, Ph.D., Deputy Director for Science, Outreach, and Policy, NIH
    Lawrence A. Tabak, D.D.S., Ph.D., Deputy Director, NIH

  7. igrrrl said

    For instance, the RCMI [a resource program for minority institutions] would belong more appropriately in the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities than it does in NCRR.

    I call bulls***.

    RCMIs weren’t designed for minority health and health disparities research. Ideally, they work they support is of general interest to human diseases. Giving a program that is almost as big as a CTSA (in terms of the applications, if not the budget) to one of the least-well funded NIH centers? RCMIs are meant to improve research infrastructure, the mandate of NCRR. Moving these pan-NIH programs will likely kill them, because I doubt the I/Cs will be given money to support them, despite what Collins says.

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