Bethesda, MD—The recent passage of the 1999 Omnibus appropriations bill, which was signed by the President of the United States on October 21, 1998, established the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM)–formerly called the Office of Alternative Medicine. In addition, Congress has appropriated $50 million in the 1999 fiscal year—representing a significant increase from last fiscal year’s budget of $20 million.
The Office of Alternative Medicine (OAM) was originally established through congressional mandate in 1991, in title 404E, Section 601 of the Public Health Service Act to serve as a coordinating center within the Office of Director (OD) at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The OAM’s mandate was to “facilitate the evaluation of alternative medical treatment modalities,” through coordinated research projects and other initiatives in conjunction with the NIH’s Institutes and Centers (ICs). As one of several coordinating offices within the OD, the OAM’s primary role throughout the past 6 years of its existence has been to place greater research emphasis on the rigorous scientific evaluation of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) treatments, develop a solid infrastructure to coordinate and conduct research at the NIH, and establish a clearinghouse to provide information to the public.
“The establishment of the NCCAM and its appropriated budget of $50 million in fiscal year 1999 will provide greater autonomy to initiate research projects at a time when the public is increasingly interested in CAM therapies,” said Harold E. Varmus, M.D., NIH Director. “We already are moving to create the NCCAM, and are in the process of searching for a new director for this activity. This will ultimately result in the expansion of clinical research in this field,” Dr. Varmus said. According to the congressional bill that established the NCCAM, the purpose of the Center is to “conduct basic and applied research (intramural and extramural research), research training, and disseminate health information and other programs with respect to identifying, investigating, and validating CAM treatments, diagnostic and prevention modalities, disciplines and systems.”
The new Center will be headed by a director who will be appointed by the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (DDHHS). The NCCAM’s director will report directly to the NIH Director. A national search is underway to hire a director who has demonstrated expertise in planning and the conduct of clinical research.
With the passage of the 1999 Omnibus appropriations bill by Congress on October 21, 1998, several changes have already taken place. The former OAM has officially been renamed from the Office of Alternative Medicine to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM). The current staff will automatically be subsumed as personnel in the new Center. Converting from an NIH office to center status enables NCCAM to directly fund research grants that have undergone scientific review through the NIH’s peer review process.
The NCCAM will be aided in its efforts by a 18-member advisory council and several ex-officio members whose purpose is to provide advice to NCCAM’s director in carrying out the Center’s congressional mandate and core programs and activities. Council members will be appointed by the DDHHS Secretary to represent the interests of key constituencies. At least half of the council members selected will include practitioners licensed in one or more of the major subsystems with which the Center is concerned, and at least three members will represent the interests of consumers of complementary and alternative medicine. Advisory members who are not ex-officio members will serve for overlapping terms of up to 4 years.