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. Translational sciences comprise the process of turning observations in the laboratory and clinic into effective interventions that improve the health of individuals and the public — from diagnostics and therapeutics to medical procedures and behavioral changes.
Read the NCATS mission statement.
Several thousand diseases affect humans, yet only about 500 have any treatment approved by the Food and Drug Administration. 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 — such as a drug, device, diagnostic or behavioral intervention — and demonstrating that it tangibly improves human health.
The process of developing a new intervention is slow and expensive; the average length of time from discovery of a therapeutic target to approval of a new drug currently is about 14 years. More than 95 percent of these projects fail, and the cost per successful drug can be $2 billion or more. 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:
- 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.
NCATS is a different entity in the research ecosystem. Rather than targeting a particular disease and fundamental science, NCATS focuses on what is common across diseases and the translational 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 is complementing the work of other NIH ICs, the private sector and the nonprofit community.
Collaborations 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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For more information about NCATS and its programs, please view the NCATS Fact Sheet or contact us. Be sure to follow us on Facebook and Twitter. Watch videos about NCATS and its grantees on our YouTube channel.
Innovation in Therapeutics
NCATS Director Christopher P. Austin, M.D. and Christine M. Colvis, Ph.D., Director of Extramural Therapeutics Programs at NCATS, authored a commentary published in the January 2014 issue of Neuropsychopharmacology.
See stories by NCATS-supported scientists and their research progress.