New NIH Center in the Offing

US Congress is close to passing a spending bill that would establish a translational research center at the federal science agency.

By | December 22, 2011

The US Capitol BuildingWIKIMEDIA COMMONS, KMCCOY

For a brief time last Saturday, National Institutes of Health staffers heralded the launch of a new center, the National Center for Advancing Translational Science (NCATS), within their agency. NIH director Francis Collins sent employees of the US government's biomedical research body an email that announced Congress's passage of the 2012 spending bill that provided for the establishment of NCATS, which has been somewhat controversial in some corners as it meant dismantling another NIH center, the National Center for Research Resources (NCRR). "This is an important step forward in our efforts to speed the delivery of new drugs, diagnostics, and medical devices to patients," Collins wrote of the new center in the message that he emailed the entire NIH staff just before 7:00 PM EST last Saturday (December 17). The problem is, the 2012 spending bill to which Collins referred hasn't yet been passed by Congress, nor has it been signed by President Barack Obama into law, as the email stated.

The confusion arose, because on Saturday, Congress did pass a stop-gap spending measure that shores up NIH's budget until tomorrow (December 23). But that bill did not formalize the establishment of NCATS. At about 8:00 PM EST, Collins sent out another email correcting the mistake and informing staffers that, "Nothing is finalized until we have a signed bill. We apologize for any confusion."

NIH communications director John Burklow took the blame for the mix up, telling ScienceInsider, "It was my fault. That was my mistake, and I hit the button too soon."

President Obama is expected to sign the spending bill that does launch NCATS sometime later this week.

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