I have tried several times to get my hands around what NIH head Francis Collins is talking about here (note: open-access article), but I now admit defeat. Allow me to quote a bit, and we'll see if anyone else out there has more luck:
We have seen a deluge of new discoveries in the last few years on the molecular basis of disease. . .(But despite) increasing investments by the private sector, there has been a downturn in the number of approved new molecular entities over the last few years. Also, drug development research remains very expensive and the failure rate is extremely high.
Perhaps in part responding to these factors, and to the downturn in the economy, pharmaceutical companies have cut back their investments in research and development. We can't count on the biotech community to step in and fill that void either, because they are hurting from an absence of long-term venture capital support. So, we have this paradox: we have a great opportunity to develop truly new therapeutic approaches, but are undergoing a real constriction of the pipeline. One solution is to come up with a non-traditional way of fostering drug development — through increased NIH involvement.
Hmm. I may have missed the deluge that he's talking about, but we'll set that concern aside. What might this "non-traditional way" look like? Collins again:
I like to think of this in a broad sense of “what kind of paradigm can we initiate and expand between academic researchers and the private sector to move the therapeutic agenda forward?” . . .By having the NIH more engaged in the pipeline, we can also ask whether we can improve the success rates of drug development. . .We need to re-engineer the process, with a lot more focus on the front end.
Right! Another thick block of wobbling gelatin. Let's see, we're going to get the NIH engaged, and, um, give them the tools, and re-engineer things, and oh yeah, focus. Definitely going to focus. Any more details to add?
There are a lot of moving parts to this set of resources that ultimately need to be synthesized into a smooth process. One of my goals over the next year is to try to identify ways to put these together into a more seamless enterprise.
Good to hear. Please,
those of you with access to (see above) Nature Reviews Drug Discovery, where this interview appeared, take a look and see if you can condense anything more out of it than I did. I mean, King Lear had a more concrete plan of action than this one: "I will do such things - what they are, yet I know not, but they shall be the terrors of the earth."
Update: an NRDD editor has let me know that the interview is open access. He also points out that the piece was done before the official announcement of the NCATS idea. My take is while that might account for a bit of the fuzziness, everything I've seen since then has been similarly soft-focus. . .