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New NIH Translational Sciences Program Hires Permanent Director

Posted 14 September 2012 | By

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has announced the appointment of Christopher Austin, MD, as the head of the recently formed National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS).

The center, the brainchild of NIH Director Francis Collins, was formed in December 2011 and has been under the acting leadership of Thomas Insell while looking for a permanent director.

Austin is already well-acquainted with NCATS, having worked as the director of its Division of Pre-Clinical Innovation since NCATS' inception. He has worked at NIH since 2002, serving as senior advisor to the director for translational research at the National Human Genome Research Institute, director of the Therapeutics for Rare and Neglected Diseases program, and scientific director for the Center for Translational Therapeutics. Before coming to NIH, Austin worked in the pharmaceutical industry, most recently for Merck, where he focused on drug discovery using the human genome.

"Dr. Austin's accomplishments in virtually every stage of the translational science spectrum make him an ideal choice to continue building on NCATS' momentum and successes," Collins said. "From his clinical experience to his work in the public and private sectors, he is poised to lead the center in revolutionizing the science of transforming laboratory discoveries into new therapies for patients."

New Program, Big Aspirations

Despite lacking a permanent fixture of leadership until now, NCATS has had a busy-and headline-grabbing-2012. The US Institute of Medicine (IOM) has called one the of the center's projects, the Cures Acceleration Network (CAN), a promising program with the potential to act not only as a "model for interagency collaboration," but ultimately catalyze the development of new therapies.

NCATS has also been busy partnering with industry, distributing grants to medical and academic centers to develop tools that could accelerate the regulatory review of products and working with larger pharmaceutical companies to repurpose existing but abandoned late-stage drug compounds for other disease areas. The program, Discovering New Therapeutic Uses for Existing Molecules, has already made waves for its use of standardized, template-based intellectual property sharing contracts that are standardized and speed up collaborative processes.

Finally, NCATS has also, along with Eli Lilly, started working to launch a new publicly available database of thousands of approved and investigational medicines. The database is set to launch in late 2013, according to initial estimates.

Austin acknowledged the accomplishments of the center when accepting the position at a meeting of NCATS' Advisory Board on 14 September 2012, saying the center has already made, "great strides in addressing a multitude of translational science challenges."

 Austin's appointment lasts until he steps down or is replaced.

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