Thomas Insel, acting director of the National Institutes of Health's (NIH) National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS) was interviewed by Science Insider this week. The new $575 million NIH center aims to look at ways to speed up drug development so that discoveries can be turned in to therapies.
While congress approved NCATS' budget this year, it did so under the condition that the center cannot conduct or support late-stage clinical trials that are traditionally the hallmark of the pharmaceutical industry.
For Insel, this isn't a problem. "The [awards given out by NCATS] do not have the funds to run large-scale clinical trials," notes Insel. "They're supporting infrastructure."
NCATS, he added, would only conduct clinical trials if conducted on a "very small scale."
NCATS' first year will be primarily spent trying to find new uses for existing drugs, working on the development of a drug toxicity chip, and working to validate protein and cell structures that drugs should target.
"We need a place to actually look at the whole process of translation in a way that can consider how it might be reengineered, consider how we can make a difference by partnering with both advocacy groups and with industry," said Insel.
Insel added that it would be better that this process happen in one place as opposed to dozens of sites, if only to avoid the needless duplication of research.
Insel also conveyed that he thinks industry supports what NCATS is trying to accomplish. "What we heard was, this isn't working very well anywhere, we'd love to have help."
The center is working on how to tie the work of NIH to the work that the pharmaceutical industry is doing, and get both to "provide a much more dynamic kind of relationship than what we've had up until now," says Insel.
A permanent director should be in place "in the very near future," says Insel, who is not seeking the position.