Exploring Future Investment Strategies: NCI Advisory Board Retreat
On Dec. 9 2004, the President signed the Omnibus Appropriations bill into law. As noted in the December 14 NCI Cancer Bulletin, the initial National Cancer Institute (NCI) appropriation increase was $141 million; however, after adjustments are made for rescissions, assessments, and mandatory increases, NCI starts with fewer dollars than in fiscal year 2004. Shortly following receipt of the FY 2005 budget, NCI's director and its senior management team reviewed all of the program needs from across NCI and established operating policies and paylines for Research Project Grants (RPGs). For this year - FY 2005 - the success rate for RPGs is expected to be 21 percent, or 1,346 competing RPGs; the R01 payline for percentiled grants is established at the 16th percentile; increases for competing renewal RPGs will range from 5 to 10 percent above current levels; and full cost-of-living adjustments will be provided for RPG noncompeting (type 5), nonmodular grants.
Last week, members of three key NCI advisory boards held a joint retreat to discuss issues facing the institute in light of diminishing resources. The meeting of the Board of Scientific Advisors (BSA), Board of Scientific Counselors (BSC), and National Cancer Advisory Board (NCAB), including the Chairs of the President's Cancer Panel and the Director's Consumer Liaison Group, served as a backdrop for what NCI Director Dr. Andrew C. von Eschenbach described as a discussion "not just about where we are, but where we want to be."
Acknowledging that essentially flat budgets are likely for the near future, Dr. von Eschenbach stressed that, nonetheless, "We are going to continue to grow, to become more innovative, more focused…and we're going to have to make tough decisions."
NCI's allocated budget for FY 2005 is up 1.8 percent from FY 2004. However, that full increase is not available to NCI to allocate for program initiatives. After covering reductions and assessments from outside NCI and approximately $110 million in continuing funding obligations within the RPG pool, NCI will actually start the year with approximately $62 million less than in FY 2004. The $110 million in existing commitments, Dr. von Eschenbach explained, is largely a result of the 80 percent increase in funding that NCI received during the period that the NIH budget doubled between 1998 and 2003. "With these increases, so grew our portfolio, and so grew our commitments," he said.
Dr. von Eschenbach noted that the majority of FY 2005 spending ($2.223 billion, or 46 percent), as it has been in the past, is directed toward RPGs. Funding for both RPGs and cancer centers will see a slight increase in FY 2005; funding for training, the cooperative research groups, specialized programs of research excellence, and the intramural program will remain essentially flat. In a flat budget scenario, he emphasized, growth in any area will require reductions elsewhere in NCI's portfolio.
Looking to FY 2006 and beyond, Dr. von Eschenbach reminded board members that they wear three hats: providing oversight of NCI activities, serving as stewards of taxpayer dollars, and advocating for a continued national commitment to cancer research. Breakout groups then discussed several questions and provided their perspectives on some of the most difficult issues facing NCI and the cancer research community, including how to best manage the RPG portfolio and protect young investigators.
As a result of the retreat, several topics that will be explored further by NCAB, BSA, and BSC at future meetings are the importance of finding ways to ensure continued innovation in research, promoting partnerships with industry and other outside groups, shoring up the peer review of grant applications to better recognize innovative projects, continuing to support training and new investigators, and finding new mechanisms to measure progress and evaluate programs.
By Brittany Moya del Pino