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The National Institutes of Health (NIH) plans to spend up to $140 million over 5 years to develop, in partnership with the US Food and Drug Administration and DARPA, a chip that can predict drug toxicities. The chip, which is to be one of the first projects undertaken by the NIH's proposed National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS), will be “an in vitro platform of human tissue constructs that accurately predicts the safety, efficacy, and pharmacokinetics of drug/vaccine candidates prior to their first use in man,” according to the DARPA call for research proposals. It should integrate the responses of different human cell types, grown in three dimensions, to represent a more complete physiological system than existing toxicity testing techniques, NIH Director Francis Collins told ScienceInsider. The project "is really ambitious."
But questions linger about the new center—whether it's needed, and where the money will come from. NCATS isn't included in a draft of a House bill regarding funding for the first 7 weeks of the 2012 fiscal year, for example, but may be mentioned in an upcoming spending bill the Senate is slated to review on Tuesday, or in an omnibus bill that is to be considered in the next month or two. "I remain very hopeful that we will end up being able to start NCATS early in fiscal 2012," Collins told ScienceInsider.