To hear Collins and the White House talk about it, you would think NCATS was a done deal.
In fact, it has already committed $70M to a joint project with DARPA and the FDA to “develop cutting-edge technologies to predict drug safety” as mentioned in a White House news release associated with the signing of the America Invents Act:
NCATS aims to help biomedical entrepreneurs by identifying barriers to progress and providing science-based solutions to reduce costs and the time required to develop new drugs and diagnostics. For example, as one of its initial activities, NCATS will partner with DARPA to support development of a chip to screen for safe and effective drugs far more swiftly and efficiently than current methods.
It seems, based on the NIH news release, that things will happen quickly:
This fall, the two agencies, in coordination with FDA, will solicit proposals from industry, government labs, academic institutions, and other research organizations on how best to develop the chip, bringing together the latest advances in engineering, biology, and toxicology to bear on this complex problem.
Interesting order in the listing of anticipated applicants.
Fortunately, the job announcement soliciting applications for Director of NCATS includes such expertise as a prerequisite:
The Director, NCATS, will provide visionary leadership, executive management, and strategic direction for streamlining the process for therapeutics development. … The Director, NCATS, will identify ways to leverage existing NIH resources to speed the delivery of new, more effective medical products to patients.
Just 3 months ago, Collins was told by Congress not to search for a Director for a Center that had not yet been approved. NCATS does not appear in the CR, which mandates an across the board 1.409% cut to FY11 appropriation levels (through Nov 18th), and no other indication of likely approval has been issued from the House or Senate.
This is a neat trick for Collins to commit $70M in funds – likely from the Common Fund – to a project affiliated with a Center that does not exist. Review of applications for NCATS’s inaugural Director start December 2nd. At least s/he knows there will be a $70M project waiting to be supervised. Whether there will be a Congressionally approved Center outside the OD is another story.