Now NIH Is *Really* In The Drug Business

Part of the motivation behind the creation of the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS) at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) was to help push therapeutic research from the lab to the clinic.  Last month the first major program toward that end was announced.  With the terms of the program, it would seem that any notion of NIH as being focused just on basic research has evaporated.

In a collaboration with the pharmaceutical industry, the NIH will partner with firms (currently Pfizer, AstraZeneca and Eli Lilly and Company) to make dozens of compounds available for researchers to determine if these drugs have potential for different treatments than for what the companies were developing those drugs.  This is a distinct class of drugs from so-called ‘orphan’ compounds, which are drugs developed for rare diseases with a small affected population.

The program is called Discovering New Therapeutic Uses for Existing Molecules, and there is $20 million requested in the Fiscal Year 2013 budget for research grants covering pre-clinical research and clinical studies on these drugs.  Besides the possible innovation in the new applications for existing compounds, this program will develop new forms of cooperative agreements that would streamline the administrative and legal requirements for participation by multiple organizations.  As we’re talking pharmaceuticals, I would expect intellectual property rights are the source of many of the barriers making it difficult for companies to work together.

Here’s video of the official announcement, with Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.