Inouye and Begich: NCRR Must Stay

Update: Science has both a letter from 14 Senators dated Feb 14 questioning the NIH’s plans to abolish NCRR as well as Collins’ response, dated Feb 16. It seems, looking at the Science piece, that Collins decided to move the IDeA program from NCRR to NIGMS without a clear go-ahead from NIGMS director Jeremy Berg … and certainly with no deliberate, transparent process of assessing the implications of such a move.

Pursuant to P.L. 109-482, the NIH Reform Act, Congress has 180 days to act on Kathleen Sebelius’ request to abolish the NCRR. It only took Senators Inouye (Hawaii) and Begich (Alaska) 18 days to voice their firm opposition to “the changes currently under deliberation” via a letter to Sebelius and Collins.

Ouch.

As Nature, which released the Senators’ letter notes, Inouye chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Having worked with the exceptional staff at NCRR, I completely concur with the Senators regarding their concern that “disruption of the placement and expertise at NCRR will only serve to dismantle the laudable work that has been accomplished.” NCRR folks will not be rushing to help Collins with his “Interim Infrastructure Unit“, which means these very special and complex (and currently well-managed) programs will at best stall until a more permanent home is found again, whether at an IC or in the OD or in … hmmm … perhaps a new (novel!) freestanding center to again manage such infrastructure programs in the extramural research community.

Of course, in her letters to Congress, Sebelius was acting on “information provided to me by the NIH Director” … which clearly included absolutely no detailed (or even cursory) assessment of the impact of either the abolition of NCRR or the establishment of NCATS on the rest of the NIH (or the extramural research community). Perhaps, given a bit more information after the February 23 SMRB meeting, she will realize that her determinations were premature and that more careful examination of the repercussions of both actions is needed prior to their recommendation to Congress and implementation at the NIH.

Perhaps. One can hope. And one can submit comments on the Feedback page and in advance of the SMRB meeting.

8 Comments »

  1. iGrrrl said

    I’ve written to my senators and to my congressman. I would love to have an insider scoop on what was really behind the proposal to scrap NCRR.

  2. This whole thing would be hilarious if the stakes weren’t so high for so many communities.

  3. writedit said

    Science shares its take on the Senators’ displeasure as well.

  4. Stan said

    It’s a shame that Senators Inouye and Begich don’t seem to care about helping the millions of Americans like me who need new treatments as soon as possible.

    I’m all for shaking up the status quo in order to acclerate drug development. Our tax dollars should be going to improve people’s health, not provide workfare for narrow-minded scientists whose main interest appers to be protecting their own turf!

    • The letter from Senators Inouye and Begich relates to the IDeA program within NCRR and its possible placement in the context of the NIH reorganizational schemes under consideration. Their letter does not deal with translational science and how best to support it and it seems entirely unwarranted to accuse them of not caring about helping the American people.

    • drugmonkey said

      I’m all for shaking up the status quo in order to acclerate drug development. Our tax dollars should be going to improve people’s health, not provide workfare for narrow-minded scientists whose main interest appers to be protecting their own turf!

      The problem is that it is entirely unclear that creating a new “Translational” institute will do this. Nor is it clear that the past ~5yrs of Translational-everything at the NIH will be anything other than a giant waste of money. The past history of drug development has a good baseline track record of basic research (both fortuitous and seemingly linear successes) combined with grunt work on the industry side of “development”. There is very little evidence that all the trends and initiatives and “rational drug design” and “wars on” have done much to *specifically* change that drug development baseline.

    • fan of stan said

      Stan’s makes a good point. How many NIH researchers are really focused on improving human health? as compared to how many are really interested in using NIH money to further their own interests?

      It reminds me of the guy a few years ago who told me at the AACR Centenial meeting that we should not be celebrating 100 years of existence of cancer research when the Smallpox Research Society has been out of business for 50 years.

  5. […] A hint of what this transparent process has wrought can be found on the NCATS feedback page, where Larry Tabak has posted an NCRR Task Force recommendations (aka updated straw model) for where NCRR programs will be redistributed. Perhaps most important is the name change from “Interim Infrastructure Unit” to “Infrastructure Entity”, which I am sure will reassure many concerned constituencies. […]

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