Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Accelerating Medicines Partnership. NIH opts for Big Projects with Big Pharma- but at what cost?

A recent piece in SCIENCE described the enthusiasm of NIH Director Francis Collins for the Accelerating Medicines Partnership (AMP). The goal is to cut down on the more than 95% failure rate for drug candidates by linking between NIH funded research and industry. At first glance one is cheered to learn that the NIH will devote resources to a partnership with drug companies to seek new treatments for Alzheimer’s and other chronic diseases. But where will the money come from?  There is essentially no new money in the NIH budget, so these efforts will divert funds from traditional NIH individual investigator grants (R01s) to these larger projects. There are two problems with this. The first is that it is unclear whether such top-down, large-scale research efforts really pay off in terms of fundamental advances. The second is that small laboratories, particularly young investigators just getting started, will not be able to compete effectively for these large projects. The multi-year drought in R01 funding that began with the onset of the great recession is already beginning to winnow talented young people from careers in biomedical research. Is it wise to make their lives more difficult by further constraining R01 funding?  My guess is that greater advances in understanding chronic diseases would result from keeping a few more bright young investigators in the game, rather than putting money into mega-projects.  Converting advances in basic research into therapies is really the responsibility of the pharmaceutical and biotech industries, not the NIH. If industry isn’t doing its job maybe it needs some carrots (or sticks) to push it in that direction.

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