Josephine P. Briggs, M.D.
Recently, I was asked by Dr. Francis Collins, NIH Director, to assume a transitional role in the formation of the new National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS). NCATS, the product of more than a year of discussion and planning, was created by Congressional action on December 23, 2011. For the next few months, in addition to my “day job” as NCCAM Director, I will be serving as Acting Director of the Division of Clinical Innovation in NCATS. The major responsibility of this NCATS division is oversight of the Clinical and Translational Science Awards program, and my key role will be guiding this Division while new leadership is recruited. I am taking on this new role with much enthusiasm and the same sense of purpose I bring to NCCAM.
I am also hopeful that the insights I gain about translational research at NCATS will be useful to the ongoing work of NCCAM. As a researcher and physician, I have long been aware of the challenge of building rigorous clinical evidence. In many areas of science we talk about the challenge of moving from the bench to the bedside—turning the ideas that we pursue in the laboratory into improved health strategies for patients in need. But, we also face the challenge of going from the bedside back to the bench—capturing the observations and wisdom of experienced practitioners to aid in building clinical studies that help develop a rigorous evidence base. Translational research helps us address these challenges, but it also addresses a third hurdle—ensuring that new scientific insights actually lead to improved health care in our communities. All of these challenges are as relevant to NCCAM as any other NIH Institute or Center.
When I took over leadership of NCCAM 4 years ago, I brought a focus on translational research to the study of complementary health approaches to build a fuller understanding of the usefulness and safety of these varied practices and products. For promising complementary approaches we need and continue to constantly ask ourselves the tough questions:
- Do we have the understanding and needed methodological tools to perform definitive human subject studies on this therapy?
- Do we have adequate “proof of concept” data to justify the investment?
- Do we understand dosage and bioavailability?
- Have we developed surrogate markers that establish that the intervention has an effect?
And, if we can’t answer “yes” to these questions, then what do we need to do to move this research to the next step? To address gaps in this area, NCCAM has funded several initiatives to develop tools and methods for translational research.
NCCAM’s focus on translational research is not new. In fact, my predecessor, Dr. Stephen Straus, together with Dr. Stephen Katz, NIAMS Director, chaired the working group that developed the Clinical and Translational Sciences Award program as part of the NIH Roadmap initiative on Reengineering the Clinical Research Enterprise. So, I am delighted in my new role at NCATS to continue to participate in the challenges of building strong translational programs across the country and to bring insights from this endeavor to the work of NCCAM.