Guest Update by Dr. John E. Niederhuber
No Time or Excuse for Stagnation
The activity and energy level at NCI, as I've found over the past month, is astounding. Each week brings a significant event or announcement that has transformational potential. Take the recent announcements of awards to fund components of the NCI Alliance for Nanotechnology in Cancer and the Transdisciplinary Research on Energetics and Cancer centers: initiatives that could have wide-ranging effects for cancer patients and those at risk of cancer.
It's also rewarding to take part in essential NCI activities, especially community outreach. In just the past week, I met with leaders from the Association of American Cancer Institutes, the New York University Cancer Institute, and Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory to talk about NCI's programs and initiatives that are keeping us headed toward the 2015 goal.
It's tempting - and easy - to be skeptical about maintaining this level of activity during a period when the government has had to tighten its belt. I believe that would be a mistake. The National Cancer Program is as robust as ever and, in concert with the entire cancer community, we are ensuring it remains that way.
Currently the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and NCI are operating under a Continuing Resolution that keeps its agencies funded at 2005 levels until the 2006 budget is passed. Nevertheless, NCI is proceeding with the budget planning process - performing modeling based on a number of scenarios that will allow the institute to establish a 2006 budget that addresses our strategic priorities and funds essential new programs. During this process, I have focused on maintaining the number of competing grants to be funded in 2006 as close as possible to that of prior years, while also working to ensure that an appropriate number of new investigator grants are funded. It is crucial that we continue to develop the next generation of cancer researchers.
Lean budgets are no excuse for stagnation. With proper planning, I expect that we can continue to accelerate our progress. This optimism is based on a number of factors, including regular advances like the recently reported success with the targeted agent trastuzumab in treating early-stage breast cancer.
My optimism is also rooted in the strategic initiatives under way at NCI paving the way for progress. In the clinical trials arena, for instance, implementation plans have been written for all of the recommendations from the Clinical Trials Working Group. These recommendations will reinvigorate and modernize NCI's clinical trials program so that we can get more promising agents through clinical trials and to patients more effectively and efficiently.
Then there is the human cancer genome pilot, for which NCI and the National Human Genome Research Institute continue to plan. This effort will expand our knowledge of the molecular foundations of several cancers and determine whether a larger scale cancer genome project is feasible and how best to design it.
But whether it's well-designed initiatives and programs in imaging, informatics, tobacco control, survivorship, or molecular epidemiology - they all point toward a future of tremendous gains against cancer.
Undoubtedly, whether budgets are flat or expanded, disciplined stewardship of funds is essential. Our focus now, as always, is on making sound, strategic decisions that advance NCI's agenda and mission and, more importantly, providing the utmost benefit to the patients who are counting on us.