Feds to create new center to speed drug development

The pharma industry isn't developing new drugs fast enough, so federal officials have decided to launch a government drug development center, the New York Times reports.

The new center, which will be called the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences, will be involved in drug discovery.

HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius outlined a plan to open the new $1 billion drug development center by October in a Jan. 14 letter to Congress. The center was the brain child of Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health. For years, Collins has predicted that gene sequencing would lead to many new drugs. But despite billions of dollars in financing by drug makers, that hasn't happened.

The high cost of developing a drug is a big obstacle. Just bringing a single drug to market can cost more than $1 billion.

Under the plan, over $700 million in research projects currently under way at institutes and centers would be brought together at the new center, which will do as much research as needed to attract drug company investment. That means the government will get into areas traditionally associated with private sector drug companies, such as performing animal tests and human trials on an experimental drug.

The need for something to speed drug discovery is especially apparent in mental health, according to the Times. Over the past century, only two major drug discoveries were made in the field: lithium to treat bipolar disorder and Thorazine to treat psychosis. Both were discovered more than 50 years ago.

Some question whether it makes sense for NIH, which traditionally has focused on basic research, to get into drug development.

NIH is not likely to be very good at drug discovery, Dr. Mark O. Lively, a professor of biochemistry at Wake Forest University, said. "So why are they doing this?"

To learn more:
- read the New York Times story
- here's the Associated Press article