AACR 2009: NCI Announces Plans to Accelerate Research and Discloses Goals

Roxanne Nelson

April 22, 2009

April 22, 2009 — The National Cancer Institute (NCI) announced that it plans to accelerate cancer research by funding more grants, developing a platform for personalized cancer care, and accelerating cancer genetics program. The details of the plan were announced by NCI director John E. Niederhuber, MD, at the American Association for Cancer Research 100th Annual Meeting 2009, in Denver, Colorado.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, which was signed into law by President Obama on February 17, provides $10.4 billion to the National Institutes of Health, $1.3 billion of which is designated to the NCI, for 2009 and 2010. After enduring several years of flat budgets or budgets that declined because of medical inflation rates, NCI has now received a budget increase of almost 3% for this fiscal year.

"The bottom line is that NCI is committed to the core belief that how we spend all of the resources we are granted, how we strive for comprehensive plans and strategies, must, by their boldness and vision, provide answers that ultimately change the course of the diseases we call cancer; not 1 disease, but hundreds of diseases," said Dr. Niederhuber in his talk.

As a result, NCI is working under an accelerated timetable to create a funding plan that will meet the stimulus goals of the Recovery Act. Their intention is to create a balance between increases in the number of research grants for individual investigators — "where there are long-term financial obligations for NCI — and a greater commitment to solicited team-science projects."

Goals for Cancer Research

According to Dr. Niederhuber, goals to strengthen cancer research include:

  • An increase in the NCI payline to fund a greater number of meritorious investigator-initiated projects. The payline is the funding cutoff point for grant applications that is set at the beginning of a fiscal year, and this year's increase of almost 3% will move NCI's payline from the 12th percentile to the 16th percentile, with increases to the 25th percentile likely for 2-year and longer-term grants.

  • An increase in the number of grants to first-time investigators.

  • Help to universities for assisting and training new faculty investigators.

  • The development of a personalized cancer-care platform that is based on the knowledge that cancer is a disease of altered genes, and that will encompass and enable drug development.

  • A new network of physical sciences and oncology centers to explore new and innovative approaches to better understand and control cancer through the convergence of the physical sciences and cancer biology.

  • Expansion of the Cancer Genome Atlas, which was designed to accelerate understanding of the molecular basis of cancer through the application of high-throughput genome-analysis technologies that interrogate the genomes of statistically significant numbers of high-quality human cancer biospecimens.


Dr. Niederhuber also noted that NCI is taking steps to create the first of a small national network of patient-characterization centers. "Always employing the latest technologies, these facilities will serve wide geographic areas, bringing together genomics and genetics, proteins and proteomics, all in the interest of matching a genetically characterized patient and his or her characterized tumor to appropriate and optimal therapeutic solutions," he said.

Along with developing a platform for personalized medicine, the clinical-trials system needs to be improved to better accommodate the validation of highly targeted therapies and to accurately assess the targeting of those therapies in patients in real time. "The challenge in translation is optimally matching the tumor and the therapeutic recipe," Dr. Niederhuber explained. "As we move forward, this will be the pattern of treatment for all malignancies."

The pace of uncovering the genetic basis of disease is unfolding at an unprecedented rate, but Dr. Niederhuber reminded conference attendees that the task at hand is far from complete. "Patients still need answers. Patients still need better treatments, better prevention, and better early detection. We must recommit ourselves to answering that call."


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