Sept. 12, 2014: New Opportunity for Evolving Clinical and Translational Science

Understanding the characteristics and course of diseases in people, investigating the effectiveness and safety of new treatments, and devising ways to get treatments to all the people who need them are just some of the issues addressed in the clinical phase of the translational process. Like the preclinical phase I discussed in previous Director’s Messages in April and June, clinical translation is inefficient and poorly understood, leading to many lost opportunities for health improvement.

Through the Clinical and Translational Science Awards (CTSA) program, NCATS is tackling the system-wide issues that limit efficiency in clinical translation. The CTSA program supports a national network of more than 60 medical research institutions (called “hubs”) that work together to transform the translational science process to bring more treatments to more patients more quickly. With the dramatic increase in fundamental scientific understanding in the past decade have come unmatched opportunities for clinical translation of discoveries into improved health. To realize this promise, we must transform clinical translational technologies, operations and efficiency.

Over the past two years, NCATS has consulted widely about how to evolve the CTSA program to drive this transformation. We have been fortunate to receive diverse and insightful input from the Institute of Medicine, a working group of the NCATS Advisory Council, CTSA investigators, patient groups, and the broader clinical and translational research community. I am extremely grateful to the hundreds of individuals and groups who have provided thoughtful suggestions about the accomplishments of the CTSA program to date and strategies to build on this foundation to meet the needs and opportunities now before us.

I am thrilled about the exciting new vision for the CTSA program that resulted, and today we take the first step toward its implementation. NCATS has released a new funding opportunity for the CTSA program, which emphasizes:

  • Greater alignment between the CTSA program and the NCATS mission of understanding and improving the translational process;
  • Continued strength of individual hubs while creating a whole that is greater than the sum of the parts: a collaborative national network that will lead the transformation of clinical and translational science across the country;
  • New initiatives to train a new generation of scientists with the special skills and knowledge required for clinical translation, including team science; and
  • Accountability with evaluation using defined criteria for measurement, deliverables and metrics.

The CTSA program is a unique national resource that has evolved continually since its inception to leverage and lead new developments in science and medicine. Now the program is evolving again to meet the enormous new opportunities — and enormous needs — in translational science and create a dramatically accelerated and more efficient translational engine.

As a catalyst, integrator and collaborator, NCATS continues to listen and respond to the needs of the translational community, which includes researchers, clinicians, regulators, patient and community groups, and industry. As a data-driven organization, NCATS will continue to evolve this and all its programs in response to results and your continued input. Together, we will make the NCATS vision a reality for the benefit of science, medicine and patients.

Christopher P. Austin, M.D.
National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences