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Hat in Hand, Specter Proposes New Agency to Race for the Cure

Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA) says giving the U.S. National Institutes of Health billions more dollars isn't enough to bolster biomedical research. On Saturday at a clinical research meeting in Chicago, he proposed a new independent agency to move bench discoveries to the bedside. And he wants your money to help him keep his seat.

Specter led a push to give NIH $10.4 billion in the recent stimulus package. He's now drafted a bill to be introduced this week that would authorize NIH to receive that funding as part of its base budget, bringing the total to $40 billion.

He explains his plan at a Web site,, that also urges visitors to contribute to his election campaign—he's facing a difficult primary battle to hold onto his seat in 2010. The bill would also create what he calls the Cures Acceleration Network, an independent federal agency, funded at $2 billion a year, that would attempt to bridge the so-called valley of death between discovering a potential drug and testing it in patients.

The agency's aim would be to "turn discoveries in biomedical research into better health for the American people," said Specter, a two-time cancer survivor. Biotech companies, universities, and patient groups could all apply for the grants, Specter said.

At least one prominent scientist thinks the network is a great idea. Former National Human Genome Research Institute Director Francis Collins, who was at the same meeting, told ScienceInsider that Specter's proposal is a "bold step" and that "the medical community should ... line up and try to figure out how to make it happen."