Collins boasts "striking" progress against cancer and other diseases
NIH Chief, Dr. Francis Collins, took to Capitol Hill last month to tout the pace of innovation and value of scientific discovery fueled by the NIH.
Collins was invited by the House Committee on Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health to serve as the sole witness during a hearing entitled, "NIH in the 21st Century: The Director's Perspective."
Members displayed great interest as the director discussed the ongoing work at the NIH and his vision for the future. During a collegial session which lasted nearly four hours, Collins boasted about NIH initiatives ranging from accelerating life-saving targeted therapies to spearheading research into the health impact of the gulf coast oil spill, as he emphasized the broad importance of biomedical research driven by the institutes.
Cancer research was referenced time and again as Collins spoke about the institute's priorities, especially in regard to advancing the field of personalized medicine. The Cancer Genome Atlas, a comprehensive and coordinated effort to understand the genetics of cancer, was highlighted as one of the "most exciting" projects at the institutes.
Lawmakers were also interested in understanding how Collins is taking steps to maximize the institutes' resources and about the factors he considers when developing the NIH budget. Dr. Collins cited disease burden and scientific opportunity as two of the many factors, and noted that the two-tiered peer review system is key to achieving a balance.
When asked how the institute will allocate funds to the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities, which was elevated from a center with the enactment of health care reform, Dr. Collins expressed his desire to see its budget increased. However, he acknowledged it was a difficult year, and when resources are tight and success rates might fall to "historic lows," special budget increases are even more difficult.
Collins also was pressed on recent actions such as proposed rulemaking on the issue of conflict of interest (COI) and the establishment of the Cures Acceleration Network (CAN). He explained that new COI rules will require more disclosure on the part of grantees and attempts to address it through institutions. With respect to CAN, he said that despite speculation to the contrary, any projects funded through the Cures Acceleration Network will go through the same rigorous, two-tiered peer review process to which other NIH grant proposals are subject.
Collins also addressed questions about the stem cell research, Molecular Library Initiative and the new FDA-NIH Collaborative, which he explained is intended to bring biology and chemistry together to help move basic discoveries to the translational level. There are many basic discoveries that are ripe for translation but are not ready for the private sector to take on, he said, noting that NIH was in a position to bridge this divide.
More from the July Edition of the AACR Cancer Policy Monitor: