Always on the verge of an “important breakthrough”

The comment from the relatively new boss at Partners in today’s Globe echoes what we’ve been hearing for years – flat NIH budgets will shut down labs on the verge of curing disease. Today’s interview with Dr. Gary L. Gottlieb includes this item:  

Budgets at the National Institutes of Health, which funnels research grants to Brigham and Women’s, Massachusetts General Hospital, and other Partners hospitals, are likely to be flat. And as two-year NIH stimulus grants run out next year, “that’s going to make it very, very challenging’’ to keep funding researchers who may be close to making important breakthroughs.  

 Note that the writer — not necessarily Gottlieb –used the word “breakthrough.” However, poor mouthing about funding from NIH – which doubled its spending in the 1990s – is an old song. 

 So, it is worth noting the front page NYTimes story that basically says, the Human Genome Project has not delivered. (Commonhealth pulls an MIT quote.)

NIH photo

 In announcing on June 26, 2000, that the first draft of the human genome had been achieved, Mr. Clinton said it would “revolutionize the diagnosis, prevention and treatment of most, if not all, human diseases.”  

At a news conference, Francis Collins, then the director of the genome agency at the National Institutes of Health, said that genetic diagnosis of diseases would be accomplished in 10 years and that treatments would start to roll out perhaps five years after that.  

“Over the longer term, perhaps in another 15 or 20 years,” he added, “you will see a complete transformation in therapeutic medicine.”  

The pharmaceutical industry has spent billions of dollars to reap genomic secrets and is starting to bring several genome-guided drugs to market. While drug companies continue to pour huge amounts of money into genome research, it has become clear that the genetics of most diseases are more complex than anticipated and that it will take many more years before new treatments may be able to transform medicine

Also note  that Francis Collins is now the director of NIH.


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