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Director's Corner

Director’s Corner

April 30, 2015: A Senator Walks into a High-Throughput Screening Facility...

Christopher AustinLast month, I was privileged to play one of my favorite roles — laboratory tour guide — for Maryland Sen. Barbara Mikulski, a longtime and vocal champion of biomedical research. During the tour of NCATS’ laboratories, I used three examples to illustrate our mission of developing translational technologies that will get more treatments to more patients more quickly. NIH Director Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D., joined our walk-through of NCATS’ high-throughput screening facility and helped showcase our multi-armed robot, a machine that can perform tests of potential drugs in one week that would take a scientist 12 years to do manually.

I then showed Mikulski an “organ on a chip” from the Tissue Chip for Drug Screening program, and I explained how these devices are designed to help scientists better understand disease and more accurately and efficiently test experimental therapies. We then held a press conference in the lab, and Collins announced an exciting development for the Discovering New Therapeutic Uses for Existing Molecules (New Therapeutic Uses) program: An experimental cancer drug was found to restore brain function in mouse models of Alzheimer’s disease.

New Therapeutic Uses functions as a “matchmaker,” offering academic investigators an unprecedented opportunity to access investigational pharmaceutical industry assets to explore new ways to treat disease. To speed establishment of these public-private partnerships, NCATS developed template agreements that streamlined the required legal and administrative processes and thus shortened the time in establishing collaborations to about three months from the more typical nine months to one year.

In the Alzheimer’s study, researchers at Yale University found that AstraZeneca’s drug saracatinib, originally intended to treat cancer, reversed learning and memory problems as well as brain abnormalities in mouse models of Alzheimer’s. The team has successfully completed a Phase 1b safety, tolerability and ideal-dosage study in humans and now is starting a Phase 2a clinical trial to test the drug’s effectiveness in older adults with the disease.

We were delighted to share these NCATS accomplishments with the senator during her visit, enabling her to experience firsthand how NCATS is working to transform the long and expensive process of developing new interventions in the quest for improved human health.

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