According to the agenda posted for the SMRB meeting tomorrow (800-779-1545, pass code “NIH), we’ll get a 15-min update on what’s happening with NCRR, a 15-min update on what’s happening with NCATS, a 15-min discussion among SMRB members, and 20 min of public comment. Just that quickly, we will learn the results of the “extensive and detailed analysis through a transparent process to evaluate the impact of the new Center on other relevant extant programs at NIH, including NCRR”.
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.
Former SMRB member and not-yet-former NIGMS Director Jeremy Berg has submitted a public comment urging his former fellow Board members to:
recommend to the NIH Director, to the Secretary of Health and Human Services, and to Congress that NCRR not be abolished at this time, pending an appropriately transparent process, following the principles outlined in the SMRB report, Deliberating Organizational Change and Effectiveness.
Bold typeface is used in the submitted comment. He goes on to explain and cross reference his case for this recommendation and includes an e-mail he sent in advance of the December 7th SMRB meeting raising critical questions about what might happen to NCRR and the need to consider these issues before voting on any proposal to create a new center for translational science and therapeutics.
One wonders if the 15-min presentations to be made this teleconference will address the many questions raised by House staffer John Bartrum. Well, at least it won’t take long to find out.
Update: The teleconference was very short on detail (no detailed analysis certainly), and the comments reflected concerns from specific NCRR constituencies for their programs (everyone wants to be put in the OD rather than an IC) as well as patient/disease advocacy groups telling the NIH to hurry up and deliver cures. SMRB member Tom Kelly (Sloan-Kettering) asked why the rest of NCRR wasn’t just left intact after taking out the CTSA program (which only began in 2006, whereas NCRR has been around since 1962). Larry Tabak talked about being left with an IC that looked like a coat of many colors and perhaps the time was right to consider whether better places – better adjacencies – could be found for all these programs.
Of course, the SMRB has been considering the merger of NIAAA and NIDA since its inception in 2009, and in September 2010 recommended the creation of a single new IC devoted to substance use, abuse and addiction. However, after nearly two years of deliberation, Collins has indicated the need for more thoughtful analysis and has not (apparently) transmitted this request to Sebelius, whereas, in the absence of even a cursory impact study, he transmitted the request to both create a new Center (as recommended by the SMRB) and to abolish NCRR (which was not recommended by the SMRB) less than two weeks after the December 7th meeting.
What’s next? Jocelyn Kaiser’s recap in Science suggests it’s all over but the shoutin’.
Hopefully members of the House and Senate will do a little shoutin’ of their own if there is any hope for this precedent-setting reorganization of the NIH to follow a reasonable, deliberative, transparent process.