Guest Update by Dr. Robert H. Wiltrout
The Center for Cancer Research: Finding Opportunities, Facing Challenges
In 2001, the NCI intramural Divisions of Basic Sciences and Clinical Sciences were merged to form the Center for Cancer Research (CCR). This reengineering was fueled by the rapid pace of biotechnology advancement and the growing need for multidisciplinary approaches to the complex scientific problems NCI researchers are increasingly tackling. CCR's mission is to reduce the burden of cancer through exploration, discovery, and translation. This integrated structure is intended to promote rapid bench-to-bedside translation of promising cancer therapies. In turn, results from the clinic are informing the work of laboratory investigators to further refine therapies. In CCR, we value high-quality investigator-initiated research but we are also challenging the customary ways of thinking and organizing, fostering cross-disciplinary and multi-institutional research to solve complex problems in cancer research.
Within the last year, research initiated and developed at the Center culminated in a number of notable advances, including a vaccine against cervical cancer, a promising new immunotherapy against melanoma and renal carcinoma, an FDA-approved drug to treat oral mucositis, a protective agent to prevent hair loss in cancer patients undergoing radiotherapy, and a cutting-edge molecular profiling technology. These advances are impacting the NCI challenge goal of eliminating the suffering and death due to cancer by 2015 and improving the quality of life for cancer survivors. At present, a number of additional therapies are working their way through clinical trials to reach the patients.
Going forward, we are leveraging our strengths to respond to emerging needs and opportunities, as well as quickly establishing programs in high-priority areas. We are pursuing an interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary team-science approach to address the complexity of cancer research, exemplified by the formation of several Centers of Excellence. One example is the Center of Excellence in Immunology (CEI), created to foster discovery, development, and delivery of novel immunologic approaches to prevent and treat cancer and cancer-associated viral diseases. CEI's objectives include defining emerging opportunities, overseeing programs in specific areas in immunology and virology, and fine-tuning immunotherapeutic approaches in cancer treatment. CEI sponsored a very successful national conference in immunotherapy September 22-23 on the National Institutes of Health campus.
Another guiding principle is the redeployment of existing resources into new and promising areas where CCR can make a distinct contribution. An excellent example of this is the realignment of the Laboratory of Experimental and Computational Biology to support NCI's nanotechnology effort, creating an Intramural Cancer Nanotechnology Program (ICNP). CCR investigators seized the opportunity in NCI's new National Advanced Technologies Initiative for Cancer, redirecting their scientific expertise to develop a research portfolio to complement the NCI Alliance for Nanotechnology in Cancer - especially the Nanotechnology Standards Laboratory, and molecular targets/molecular oncology efforts.
While our challenges are many, the CCR staff will continue to seek innovative solutions to the complex problems of cancer by leveraging our internal strengths, identifying new opportunities, and forging fruitful collaborations.