NCI's Research Objectives for the Recovery Act Funds
—Dr. John Niederhuber
Recovery Act funds enable NCI to move closer to its strategic vision of accelerating cancer research and advancing innovations that will make a difference in the lives of those affected by cancer. In keeping with the spirit of the Recovery Act, NCI has identified seven key objectives that present the greatest potential for fulfilling this strategic vision.
Accelerate and Expand Cancer Research
Cancer is a genetic disease and understanding the gene alterations that lead to cancer will help uncover the biological pathways and molecules that contribute to the disease.
The Cancer Genome Atlas is an NCI program initiated to accelerate our understanding of the genetic basis of cancer through the use of advanced genomic analysis. A complementary program called "Therapeutically Applicable Research to Generate Effective Treatments, or TARGET " is designed to apply the same advances in genomic analysis to uncover the molecular changes that lead to a variety of cancers affecting children.
Recovery Act funding support for these Signature programs will reveal potential molecular defects present in cancer that can be used to study the functional biology of this disease and uncover potential targets for drug development. Funds will be allocated to increase the type and number of tissues being studied in the childhood cancer TARGET initiative and The Cancer Genome Atlas.
In addition, the "Grand Opportunities" and "Challenge Grants" research projects, supported by Recovery Act funds, will accelerate cancer research and provide new avenues for critical breakthroughs in areas such as molecular targets, proteomics, and nanotechnology.
NCI is also applying Recovery Act funding to expand our knowledge about cancer by applying knowledge from the study of physical sciences to the problem of cancer. The Physical Sciences in Oncology Signature initiative is exploring new perspectives, such as the influence of gravity and thermodynamics, to enhance our understanding of cancer biology.
Advance Personalized Cancer Treatment and Prevention
Cancer care is moving from a one-size-fits-all model to one that is more personalized. This trend is increasingly driven by considering an individual's genetic profile as part of clinical decision-making. Doctors will be able to provide interventions that are proven to be effective in patients who carry a certain genetic alteration or predisposition and avoid treatments that are ineffective.
But personalized medicine is driven by more than genomics. It must involve an understanding of the biological pathways of disease and potential targets for drug therapy.
NCI's personalized cancer care/drug development platform is one of three Signature projects that will benefit from Recovery Act funding. The platform includes supporting components, such as state-of-the-art biospecimen collection and repositories with CaHUB, and identification and optimization of targets for drugs through the Chemical Biology Consortium and the Developmental Therapeutics Program.The use of Recovery Act funds to support "Grand Opportunities" research projects for the discovery of molecular targets and for comparative effectiveness research in genomic and personalized medicine and prevention, as well as the "Challenge Grants" for supporting research toward biomarker discovery and validation, together will help advance the goal of personalized healthcare, where each patient is matched to highly specific targeted therapies.
Redesign Informatics Infrastructure
Creating an integrated 21st century translational science program will require data integration, through advances in informatics and a reinvigorated push for the cancer electronic health record, managed through NCI's Cancer Biomedical Informatics Grid, better known as caBIG, and its companion BIG Health Consortium.
Support from Recovery Act funding will allow NCI to build on the foundations that have been created to break down the barriers related to data sharing and management, and will provide an integrated view of all aspects of patient care.
Revamp the Clinical Trial System
Hand in hand with the effort to develop a platform for personalized medicine is the need to develop an improved clinical trials system. A revamped system of conducting clinical trials is needed to better accommodate the validation of targeted therapies and to accurately assess the effectiveness of those therapies in patients. The challenge in translation is optimally matching the patient's tumor with the most effective therapies.
Recovery Act funds will support a variety of early-phase clinical trial initiatives that involve imaging and targeted therapies, providing the means to evaluate the effectiveness of given treatments, that will provide definitive information that could advance both clinical management and cancer research.
Collaborate for Greater Impact
Working closely with the cancer research community, Recovery Act funds will support institutes and centers that will foster a team science environment that incubates and tests novel cancer concepts. Team research approaches difficult scientific problems from diverse perspectives that can advance all research.
Recovery Act funding provides support to coordinate clinical/translational research across the NCI, furthering NCI's goal of accelerating high-impact translational research by encouraging and rewarding collaborative team science.
Strengthen the Research Workforce
NCI's vision recognizes that individual investigators are at the very heart of scientific discovery. Recovery Act funds allow NCI to expand the number of funded grants by increasing the payline (the line of demarcation between grants that are funded and not funded, based solely on peer review) for five-year grants that support first-time applicants who are committed to careers in translational cancer research. These start-up packages for investigators just beginning their careers will assist new faculty members in establishing laboratories and creating a foundation for a career of excellence.
A parallel program, also supported by Recovery Act funding, will be available to investigators at the NCI-Designated Cancer Centers and at institutions funded through the Minority Institution/Cancer Center Partnership program. To encourage the development and training of future cancer researchers, Recovery Act funds have also created the opportunity to promote re-entry into biomedical and behavioral research careers that will allow individuals with high potential to re-enter an active research career after an interruption in their career due to family or other responsibilities. In addition, funds will also support job creation that will accelerate the commercialization of novel cancer products.
NCI is also able to offer additional funds to researchers with active NCI grants to apply for Recovery Act funds to offer summer research experiences for students and science educators.
Improve Care and Quality of Life for All Cancer Patients
NCI works every day toward a common goal that cancer will not be the feared diagnosis it is today. We are on the threshold of altering the course of this disease for millions of patients, young and old alike. The infusion of Recovery Act funding will lead to scientific advances necessary to improve the nation's health and help ensure that every cancer patient has access to the state-of-the-art technologies and therapies.
NCI is committed to the study and identification of factors that contribute to cancer health disparities, and has continued to sustain and, in some areas, expand its research efforts in understanding and addressing the impact of cancer health disparities nationally. Recovery Act funding will be used to support NCI initiatives such as the Patient Navigator Program, in which patient "navigators" help disadvantaged cancer patients to access and utilize the healthcare system, and the Community Health Educator project that provides outreach within minority communities and aids in providing access and development of educational materials that are culturally appropriate.
To enhance our understanding of how cancer differs among ethnic groups, and may be a factor in cancer health disparities, NCI is allocating Recovery Act funds to create state-of-the art networks and centers dedicated to ensuring the adequate and continuous supply of high-quality human biospecimens from multi-ethnic communities for cancer research.