Creating Networks to Foster Progress
I recently wrote a column for a European news syndicate about our 2015 goal and NCI's global outreach. As I stated in the column, eliminating cancer as a cause of suffering and death is something that will involve a global effort from all disciplines and backgrounds working toward this common goal. Cancer is a global problem, and although its solution will involve a global effort, NCI has an opportunity to spearhead this effort.
For that to happen, though, it requires the appropriate infrastructure and networks to facilitate collaboration, and the sharing of information and resources. At NCI, we are strategically focused on building such an infrastructure that can be viewed, to borrow a phrase from HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt, as a "network of networks." In other words, multiple channels through which researchers - in the United States and beyond our borders into Europe, Asia, and elsewhere - can acquire new tools and resources, and communicate and collaborate with others.
The cancer Biomedical Informatics Grid (caBIG) offers an excellent example. Focusing initially on our own National Cancer Program, it is intended to connect cancer centers, Specialized Programs of Research Excellence (SPOREs), NCI's Clinical Trials Cooperative Groups, community clinicians, and others by providing tools for conducting research more effectively and efficiently. But caBIG will by no means be limited to participants in the United States. The National Cancer Act of 1971 called for NCI to pursue its mission both domestically and globally, and I expect that eventually there will be strong international participation in caBIG.
Many international participants in caBIG can join us via the International Cancer Research (ICR) Partnership, which includes NCI, the UK National Cancer Research Institute, and the U.S. Department of Defense's Congressionally Directed Medical Research Programs (CDMRP), among others. The ICR Partnership was founded in 2000 to develop common ways to communicate about member organizations' research portfolios.
In 2003, the ICR Partnership launched the International Cancer Research Portfolio Web site (www.cancerportfolio.org), via which researchers could identify possible collaborators or plan future research based on studies already being conducted. All Partnership members have agreed to use the Common Scientific Outline - a classification system organized around seven broad areas of cancer research developed by NCI and CDMRP - and have now coded their portfolios accordingly.
This May, the ICR Partnership members decided to broaden the group's mission by taking steps to increase and enhance "collaboration and strategic coordination of research globally." To do so, the Partnership is looking into expanding the group's membership to augment its ability to gather and share information on current research, and to use the data available on its Web site to conduct portfolio analyses that will help inform strategic planning and funding decisions within and among partner organizations.
The ICR Partnership is just one example of NCI exercising leadership globally to fight cancer. Our international effort is also being pursued in areas such as technology development; the establishment and leadership of large international cohort studies; and the partnerships NCI has established with foreign cancer research organizations, such as those in Ireland, Italy, and the Middle East.
Cancer is a crisis we must overcome and that we now can overcome. But it will only be done by ensuring that networks which foster discovery, development, and delivery are available to all who want to be part of our mission.
Dr. Andrew C. von Eschenbach