Program Promotes Collaboration,
Rapid Generation of New Interventions
At the recent joint retreat of some key NCI advisory boards and the NCI intramural program retreat, two themes emerged that go hand-in-hand with several high-priority NCI initiatives. First was the strongly voiced sentiment that, to make the sort of progress against cancer that we all believe is possible, extensive collaboration is required among researchers of all disciplines and between academia and industry. Second was the imperative of getting drugs and other interventions to patients much more quickly than we currently do.
One NCI-led program that I believe holds tremendous promise and speaks to both topics is the Academic Public-Private Partnership Program (AP4). This program will establish AP4 centers at four to six U.S. academic research institutions and stimulate discovery- and development-related research. Through partnerships with nonprofit organizations and industry, the goal will be to rapidly generate novel, molecularly targeted cancer drugs and diagnostics for clinical trials for orphan cancer types.
With the aid of NCI planning grants, 14 research centers are currently developing AP4 proposals that cover a broad array of research, from advanced cellular/immunotherapies to neuroendocrine tumors to agents that improve radiation sensitization of cancers. Some of the country's top research centers with proven track records in research and development are vying to become AP4 centers. Early indications are that nonprofits and corporations are eager to join an AP4 team.
AP4 arose from similar recommendations made by several NCI Progress Review Groups, all calling for efforts to accelerate the advancement of new interventions to clinical trials. NCI's Office of Science Planning and Assessment and Developmental Therapeutics Program (DTP) worked together to develop AP4, including researching programs with similar aims to speed up the pace of research. In fact, AP4 is modeled on the long-running, extremely successful National Science Foundation (NSF) Industrial/University Cooperative Research Centers (I/UCRC) program. In 2000, with NSF funding of $5.2 million, I/UCRCs had a combined budget of $68 million that supported 1,750 faculty and students at 50 academic research centers.
At the heart of AP4 is a flexible and dynamic project management structure. Each AP4 center will have an academic director and various partners, who together compose the AP4 steering committee. The partners in each AP4 center will develop a governance document that defines financial contributions, partner interactions, intellectual property issues, and evaluation metrics. Each center's steering committee (which will have a nonvoting NCI member) will have the authority to make go/no-go decisions on projects, add new projects, and shift funds as they see fit - a flexibility that will give them the agility to keep projects moving. In addition, AP4 centers will have priority access to DPT's screening and developmental resources for clinical candidates, such as in vivo efficacy testing and pharmacology and toxicology studies.
Partnerships between industry, nonprofits, and academic institutions have always been a part of NCI's strategy to accelerate progress. Through AP4, NCI will provide financial support and an integrated system for collaboration. Industry will be attracted by access to the talent and novel research capabilities of the academic centers, with the ability to pursue interventions that - on their own - they might deem too risky to pursue, and insight into research methods that in later years could have a significant downstream impact on their business. Academic investigators, on the other hand, will have rapid and direct access to the expertise necessary to facilitate discoveries being translated into development of interventions that will lead to the elimination of the suffering and death due to cancer. Through AP4, we believe we can significantly enhance the marginal success rate of current academic/industry partnerships, open exciting new doors for partnership and collaboration, and quickly generate new interventions that will benefit many patients.
Dr. Andrew C. von Eschenbach