A Vision of Progress
There is broad agreement among NCI leaders about how best to seize these opportunities. First, we must continue to address NCI's strategic priorities, through appropriately aligned new initiatives. Second, we are committed to striving to maintain the number of competing awards near the level achieved during the period when the NIH budget doubled. In addition, we are firmly committed to funding new investigators and devising incentives that will attract the best minds to a field so vital to the health of our citizens - and to our country's future development in a changing world market.
Sound fiscal planning, especially in today's difficult budgetary environment, will be required to achieve these goals. It will fall on the leadership of NCI to make difficult decisions among competing priorities. Scientific consensus in this process will be critical. I will rely on the NCI Executive Committee to discuss operational and scientific issues, guide the decision-making process, and help find the necessary resources, through redeployment, to maintain scientific momentum.
As NCI Director, I take it as my responsibility to find new ways to leverage resources. We will continue our collaborations with other NIH Institutes and Centers, nonprofit organizations, and Federal agencies. We will maintain our support of partnerships with academia that have been so successfully developed within each of the Divisions and Centers at NCI. Such programs stretch across the oncology research spectrum and include opportunities in behavioral science, clinical research, epidemiology, genetics, molecular biology, proteomics, and nanotechnology.
One of the biggest scientific challenges we will face as an Institute will be integrating our diverse research, in order to most effectively utilize new knowledge to generate better outcomes for cancer patients. I like to think of three "spaces": a chemical space, in which we develop the capacity to understand and re-engineer molecules; a biologic space that comprehends the genetic defects that comprise this disease, the signal pathways that become abnormal, the tumor stem cells, and the tissue microenvironment; and a translational space that brings new discoveries to the point where targets and markers inform drug development. Integrating these spaces is dependant on technology and technology development, which bring together the physical and biological sciences. Driving this entire continuum will be computational biology, which adds the rigors of applied mathematics and the capacity to manage, analyze, and utilize large databases. Integrating the chemical, biologic, and translational spaces - with informatics as a common thread - will make the process of interventional discovery much faster, and as we make this continuum faster, we will make it less costly.
One element of our research - from which informatics will be inseparable - will be to study how we can improve the delivery of cancer care to patients in the communities where they live. In an era of highly targeted cancer treatments, I believe that access to care could potentially be the greatest determinant of cancer mortality. NCI will work to extend its clinical trials infrastructure and its science into the community. We will research how to bring the best science to patients - with electronic medical records and interconnected informatics systems helping create a national cohort of cancer patients. This cohort will help us address the translational space and will be a significant factor in reducing the cost of drug discovery.
We live in a time of unparalleled scientific opportunity. NCI will face the challenges that come its way, with a clear vision of how to exploit scientific advances and lessen the burden of cancer.
Dr. John E. Niederhuber