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NAEVR Testifies Against Merging NIH Institutes at Meeting Where Dr. Collins Asks the SMRB To Develop an Integrated Approach to Translational Research

Legislative Update
May 20, 2010

NIH Director Francis Collins, M.D., Ph.D. speaks to the SMRB
NIH Director Francis Collins, M.D., Ph.D. speaks to the SMRB
On May 18-19, the National Institute of Health’s (NIH) Scientific Management Review Board (SMRB) held its fourth meeting to address NIH management and structure issues, which is its charter, as set forth by the NIH Reform Act of 2006.

The meeting focused on status reports from the SMRB’s three Working Groups-Deliberating Organizational Change and Effectiveness (DOCE); Substance Use, Abuse, and Addiction (SUAA), which is considering the merger of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA); and Intramural Research Program (IRP), which is also considering changes to how the NIH Clinical Center is funded and interacts with the extramural research community.

The SUAA Working Group had an extensive discussion about potential options for optimizing research into substance abuse after hearing from researchers and patient advocates. The majority of commentors favored a "functional" change, that is, retaining both the NIDA and NIAAA as separate Institutes but optimizing interaction and developing joint programs that supported addiction research, rather than a "structural" change, such as a merger. In that regard, they emphasized that the NIH’s Neuroscience Blueprint provided a strong example of a model that fostered collaborative research.

Due to NAEVR’s long-standing opposition to the merging of Institute and Center budgets and support for maintaining the National Eye Institute’s (NEI) budget line item, NAEVR Executive Director James Jorkasky provided a brief oral statement. He cautioned the SMRB to fully examine the potential impact on the actual research that is being conducted by NIDA and NIAAA should a "structural" change be recommended. NAEVR likened the concern expressed by liver function researchers that "targeted organ research" could be minimized in a combined Drug/Alcohol Institute to the concern previously expressed by vision researchers that "front of the eye" corneal research could be minimized if NEI was clustered into a "Brain" Institute that may maximize "back of the eye" retinal research, as proposed in 2001 by former NIH Director Harold Varmus, M.D.

The SUAA and IRP Working Groups did not offer final recommendations to the larger SMRB at the meeting, opting instead to have further discussions in conference calls this summer before the scheduled September 14-15 SMRB meeting. Per the Reform Act, the SMRB must hold five meetings before it can make official recommendations to the NIH Director.

Late on the second day, NIH Director Francis Collins, M.D., Ph.D. spoke, requesting that the SMRB take on a new project-recommending to NIH how to integrate the numerous initiatives to translate basic research more rapidly into treatments and therapies. He noted that several components of the pipeline are already in place, such as:

  • Molecular Libraries Initiative, including the NIH Chemical Genomics Center
  • PubChem database
  • Therapeutics for Rare and Neglected Diseases Program (TRND)
  • Rapid Access to Interventional Development (RAID) Program
  • NIH Clinical Center
  • Clinical and Translational Science Awards (CTSAs)
He also acknowledged the potential role of the newly formed NIH-Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Joint Leadership Council, as well as the potential impact of the Cures Acceleration Network (CAN), a competitive grant program at the NIH which was authorized by Congress in healthcare reform legislation at $500 million but is not yet appropriated funds.

He noted that, with the reduced investments in research and development at pharmaceutical and biotechnology firms and the growing interest and expertise by academic institutions in assay development and high through-put screening, the NIH was uniquely positioned to demonstrate leadership.

SMRB Chair Norman Augustine (center) prepares for the meeting, flanked on the right by William Roper, M.D., M.P.H. (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill), who chairs the Substance Use, Abuse and Addiction Working Group, and on the left by Amy Patterson, M.D., NIH’s Director of the Office of Science Policy, who also serves as the SMRB’s Executive Secretary
SMRB Chair Norman Augustine (center) prepares for the meeting, flanked on the right by William Roper, M.D., M.P.H. (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill), who chairs the Substance Use, Abuse and Addiction Working Group, and on the left by Amy Patterson, M.D., NIH’s Director of the Office of Science Policy, who also serves as the SMRB’s Executive Secretary
Pat White, NIH’s Associate Director for Legislative Policy and Analysis, presents a briefing on the Cures Acceleration Network and its implications for NIH
Pat White, NIH’s Associate Director for Legislative Policy and Analysis, presents a briefing on the Cures Acceleration Network and its implications for NIH