Cures Acceleration Network Featured at Senate Appropriations Subcommittee Hearing
Translating the promise of basic science discovery into tangible benefits for patients was the central theme of the May 5 hearing held by the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies to discuss the President’s fiscal year 2011 budget request for NIH. NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins, building on his previous testimony before the House Appropriations Subcommittee in April, described recent scientific advances and identified opportunities for progress. “If our nation can be bold enough to act upon these many unprecedented opportunities, we’ll be amazed at what tomorrow will bring and how swiftly we can turn discovery into health,” he said.
Dr. Collins and several subcommittee members highlighted a new program concept, the Cures Acceleration Network (CAN), authorized in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PL 111-148). Dr. Collins praised the new flexible research authorities afforded by the CAN to develop partnerships designed to take basic science discovery through development and production and into clinical practice. These partnerships “go beyond traditional grants, contracts, and cooperative agreements, to manage projects in very forward-thinking ways,” he explained. Establishing the CAN program hinges on an actual appropriation of funds specifically designated for this purpose, as stipulated in the legislation, and the subcommittee engaged in a lively debate about how the program could be adequately funded in an environment of severely limited resources and competing priorities.
In response to the subcommittee’s concerns about the lack of progress against pancreatic cancer, Dr. Collins described how the CAN could prove useful. Dr. Collins was confident that the work of The Cancer Genome Atlas will “give us a comprehensive ability both to do a better job of early diagnosis but most importantly to identify new therapeutic magic bullets.” The CAN, he said, could assist in speeding development from target identification to therapeutic intervention.
The subcommittee was also concerned about the recent Institute of Medicine (IOM) report describing shortcomings in the cancer clinical trials program. Dr. Collins reassured the subcommittee that NCI, which requested the IOM analysis, is taking appropriate action to improve the entire clinical trials process.