About NCATS’ Role in the NIH HEAL InitiativeSM

Launched in April 2018, the NIH HEAL (Helping to End Addiction Long-termSM) Initiative is a trans-NIH effort to advance national priorities in addressing the opioid crisis through science. As part of the initiative, NIH developed a research plan to bolster research to enhance pain management strategies and improve treatments for opioid misuse and addiction.

The word "PAIN" on a chalkboard with an eraser


More than 2 million Americans have an opioid use disorder, and even more misuse these medicines by taking them longer or in higher doses than prescribed. To address the opioid epidemic, new, safe interventions are needed to combat opioid misuse and addiction and to treat pain. Not only are more accurate research models needed to understand how potential new drugs will affect humans, but scientists also must identify existing drugs or develop new therapies that have potential as effective treatments for opioid misuse and addiction and for pain.


As part of the NIH HEAL Initiative, NCATS aims to facilitate and speed the process of developing and demonstrating new treatments for opioid misuse and addiction and for pain. Because NCATS focuses on translational science — through which new interventions are developed, demonstrated and disseminated to improve human health — the Center is poised to address the public health crisis of opioid use.

NCATS is leading trans-NIH collaborative NIH HEAL efforts to:

  • Develop new testing platforms that more closely model human biology than currently available cell and animal models, using induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs), tissue chips and 3-D tissue bioprinting;
  • Identify and de-risk potential therapies that work in novel ways through development of assays (tests), high-throughput screening and optimization of promising compounds;
  • Accelerate the identification of promising chemical structures and develop those into pharmacological or drug-like compounds;
  • Advance promising new drug candidates through rigorous pre-clinical efficacy and safety studies for first-in-human clinical trials as required by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA); and
  • Facilitate opportunities to partner with other NIH Institutes and Centers, as well as clinical research institutions nationwide, to conduct studies to determine the effectiveness of existing pain management treatments.

NCATS is providing a suite of translational science resources, including high-throughput screening, and expertise to the research community working on opioid and pain research. With this expert collaborative infrastructure already in place, NCATS will accelerate the process of getting new treatments for pain and for opioid misuse and addiction to patients faster.