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The National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS) is the newest of 27 Institutes and Centers (ICs) at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). This Center was established in December 2011 to transform the translational science process so that new treatments and cures for disease can be delivered to patients faster. Read the NCATS mission statement.

Watch this video to learn more about NCATS and translational science.

Translation is the process of turning observations in the laboratory, clinic and community into interventions that improve the health of individuals and the public — from diagnostics and therapeutics to medical procedures and behavioral changes.

Translational science is the field of investigation focused on understanding the scientific and operational principles underlying each step of the translational process.

NCATS studies translation on a system-wide level as a scientific and operational problem.

The Challenge of Translation

NCATS is all about getting more treatments to more patients more efficiently. Several thousand genetic diseases affect humans, of which only about 500 have any treatment. Translational scientists aim to address that gap by taking basic discoveries about the causes of a disease and transforming this knowledge into a new treatment and demonstrating that it tangibly improves human health.

The process of developing a novel drug, device or other intervention can take about 14 years and $2 billion to develop, with a failure rate exceeding 95 percent. NCATS is directly addressing this problem by discovering new technologies and other approaches that could greatly accelerate the process of developing and deploying solutions that can be used by all translational researchers. Even when a new drug or other intervention is developed and shown to be effective in clinical trials, many years go by before all patients who could benefit from it are identified and treated. Obstacles along the way can include:

Melinda Braskett
  • A lack of understanding of the science behind the translational process.
  • A shortage of qualified investigators.
  • Environments that do not support collaborations in the public and private sectors.
  • Inflexible, inefficient clinical trial designs and low participation in studies.
  • Regulatory issues.

The NCATS Approach

NCATS is distinct in many ways; it focuses NOT on specific diseases, but on what is common among them and the translational science process. The Center emphasizes innovation and deliverables, relying on the power of data and new technologies to develop, demonstrate and disseminate improvements in translational science. In these ways, NCATS is serving as an adaptor to enable other parts of the research system to work more effectively. NCATS complements other NIH ICs, the private sector and the nonprofit community.

Catherine ChenCollaborations among government, academia, industry and nonprofit patient organizations are crucial for successful translation; no one organization can succeed alone. To this end, NCATS leads innovative and collaborative approaches in translational science that are cross-cutting and applicable to the broad scientific community. The Center convenes expert teams from diverse scientific disciplines — including efficacy, toxicity, data sharing, biomarkers and clinical application — to reduce, remove or bypass significant bottlenecks across the entire continuum of translation.

NCATS’ organization spans the entire spectrum of translational science. Through programs in its Division of Pre-Clinical Innovation, the Center drives advances in early stages of the translational process, from target validation to first-in-human studies. Through its Division of Clinical Innovation, NCATS supports clinical and translational research, creating and sharing the expertise, tools and training needed to develop and deploy effective treatments in people. Our cross-cutting programs in rare diseases, translational technologies, strategic alliances and other emerging areas address common scientific and organizational barriers to enable faster and more effective interventions that tangibly improve human health.

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