Thursday, January 22, 2009

FasterCures Task Force Calls for New Mission and Focus for National Institutes of Health's Intramural Research Program

Everyone in Washington who’s interested in medical research is currently focused on whether the NIH will get some additional money in the forthcoming stimulus package. We at FasterCures care about that too. But we are focused on something else: what will the Obama Administration do with the $3 billion asset it has on the NIH’s Bethesda campus, its Intramural Research Program?

A six-member task force, convened by FasterCures and chaired by Nobel Laureate Dr. David Baltimore, recently issued a set of recommendations regarding how to strengthen the mission and impact of the Intramural Research Program (IRP). Given the likelihood of constrained budgets in the near future, it is especially critical that NIH make the best and most efficient use of the IRP, one of its most valuable resources. FasterCures shared the task force’s recommendations with the Obama transition team.

The IRP consumes nearly ten percent of the NIH’s budget. It has a highly regarded history of discovery but today lacks a clearly defined mission within the overall NIH effort. The task force recommends a framework within which to refresh the IRP, giving it a distinct mission and identity in the service of improving public health. This mission is three-fold:
  • to focus on translational research, especially work that utilizes the unique capabilities of the NIH Clinical Center;
  • to be prepared to respond expeditiously to new scientific opportunities and challenges; and
  • to focus on high-risk, long-term basic research goals that would be difficult to pursue in the extramural research environment.
The task force recommends the following:
  • NIH should articulate an overarching mission for the IRP and strategies for meeting goals over the next five years, focused specifically on advancing translational and clinical research in the interest of public health.
  • The Clinical Center must be fully utilized and the IRP’s clinical research program should be expanded.
  • The IRP should be encouraged to systematically and proactively mobilize resources to rapidly and effectively respond to emerging scientific challenges and opportunities.
  • The IRP should be the premier national program for translational and clinical research training.
  • The IRP should play a central role in developing and sustaining large-scale, long-term projects.
In the coming years, the American public and policymakers will be focused on reforming our healthcare system, and rightly so. But at the same time, we must nurture our health cure system. Only if we translate promising scientific research into new therapies and acquire a better understanding of how to prevent and treat disease will we have any hope of reducing healthcare costs, productivity losses, and human suffering. To advance human health at a time of constrained federal budgets, we must increase the effectiveness of our investment in medical research and maximize the impact of the significant investment we make every year in the NIH Intramural Research Program.

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