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True Fact: Government Agencies Cooperating

By Marci Greenstein

National Institutes of Health chief, Dr. Frances Collins was talking up his agency’s partnership with the Food and Drug Administration on NPR’s Diane Rehm Show last week.  The move is intended to speed up the process for getting drugs from laboratories to the marketplace.  What’s surprising is that this collaboration hasn’t happened sooner.  How often have we heard about patients desperate to get drugs that are successful in clinical trials but are moving at a snail’s pace through the FDA’s regulatory maze?

As reported by Molly Peterson of Bloomberg News, this collaboration involves senior science officials who will seek to “give scientific research a more prominent role in product reviews,” backed by $6 million in grants.  Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of Health and Human Services (which oversees both FDA and NIH), said of the project,

We want to accelerate and illuminate the pathway from microscope to market. For Americans, this is going to mean that new treatments are safer and available sooner.

Contrast HHS’s common sense effort at coordination with FCC-FTC bottleneck reported by David Cho of the Washington Post.  Both the Federal Trade Commission and the Federal Communications Commission claim to be working against “crammers,” people who con callers who misdial commonly-used numbers to provide information that can result in fraudulent monthly phone charges.  The FTC goes after the crammers, but does not have jurisdiction over phone companies.  The FCC, which does regulate phone companies, seems in no rush to investigate the latest wave of problems.

This is just one example of agencies with overlapping or complementary objectives failing to synchronize their efforts.  The NIH-FDA partnership is encouraging.  Many more federal agencies need to follow suit.

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