The Building Block of Drug Discovery

Director Francis Collins sees NIH as a catalyst for translating biomedical innovations into effective therapies, but skeptics fear it's harder than it looks. It's all in the DNA of its partnerships
Feb 01, 2011



Francis Collins devoted more than 15 years in the lab to deciphering the human genome, an intensive labor of love that yielded new tools for diagnosing and curing disease. Ten years later, as Director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Collins finds himself in another unique position: to deliver on the promise of the genome through the translation of research into technologies, products, and services that are clinically relevant and commercially marketable. To underscore his agenda for closer interaction with the private sector, and in anticipation of some rough sledding on the budget front this year, Collins recently sat down with Pharm Exec to explain why these and other initiatives are critical for NIH, the industry, and public health.

It is rare for any scientist to have the opportunity to drive a new discovery and then help seed its benefits in the real-world setting of patients, but this is precisely where Collins aims to distinguish his tenure as NIH chief. Certainly the tools are there for him to make an impact. The NIH is the world's largest institution of biomedical research, with a $31.2 billion budget distributed among 27 different medical institutes, largely in the form of research grants to 325,000 scientists working at more than 3,000 scientific enterprises.


Collins in Charge
Collins regards translational medicine as the key to turning knowledge about genetics and disease into new treatments that can benefit patients. This past December, an NIH advisory committee recommended establishing a new NIH National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences, a move engineered by the NIH director to bring together a number of programs that provide resources for translating basic discoveries into new medicines and diagnostics. The goal is to encourage more collaboration between academic researchers and biopharmaceutical companies and to strengthen ties to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to ensure that NIH-sponsored studies provide the information needed to support product registration. In the process, Collins' translational science campaign aims to convince Congress and the public that the federal investment in biomedical research will pay off in terms of new, life-saving therapies.