Senate Appropriations Hearing Highlights NCI's Provocative Questions Project
Senate appropriators commended NCI for the Provocative Questions Project (PQ) at a March 28 hearing before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies (Labor-HHS) considering the fiscal year 2013 NIH budget. NCI Director Dr. Harold Varmus joined NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins and several other NIH institute and center directors at the hearing.
The hearing showcased bipartisan support for NIH and the nation’s biomedical research enterprise while also recognizing current budget constraints. Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL) commented on the need for “out-of-the-box thinking” to address those constraints and recognized PQ as an important example, saying, “This project shows that there are innovative ways to energize the research community, even when budgets are constrained.”
Dr. Varmus explained, “[PQ] is an initiative that solicited over 750 applications to study these deeper questions and empowered the scientific community to help us define what needs to be answered in the future.”
Subcommittee Chair Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) asked Dr. Varmus to outline NCI’s strategies for continued progress during difficult fiscal times. Dr. Varmus identified a number of steps that NCI is taking. “We have been looking very carefully, for example, at grants that get lower priority scores that meet high-priority topics to make sure those get funded. We’ve been reorganizing our Clinical Trials Cooperative Groups to be sure they operate effectively and are answering deep scientific questions,” he said.
Senator Mark Pryor (D-AR), a clear cell sarcoma survivor, asked Dr. Varmus to speak about NCI’s pancreatic cancer research portfolio and efforts to prioritize this research. Dr. Varmus emphasized that pancreatic cancer research is a priority for the institute, saying, “We have a much larger number of investigators working on the disease, and we have scientific opportunities that are very dramatic. …As a result, over the course of the last decade, the amount of money NCI spends on this disease—despite a flattening of our budget—has gone up about 300 percent.”
Dr. Varmus further described the NCI priority-review process for cancers that have seen less progress in treatment, citing as examples pancreatic, lung, and ovarian cancers, as well as glioblastoma. He also recognized the role of advocacy organizations in encouraging an increased focus on pancreatic cancer, particularly by providing incentives to NCI-supported investigators to pursue this challenging area of research.
The complete witness list, webcast, and testimony are available on the subcommittee’s website.
Dr. Varmus also appeared with Dr. Collins at the March 20 hearing before the House Appropriations Labor-HHS Subcommittee, which focused on NIH’s National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences. The House hearing was not webcast, but the witness list and testimony are available on the committee’s website.
For more information on NCI appropriations, cancer-specific legislation, recently enacted public laws, and other legislative resources, visit the NCI Office of Government and Congressional Relations website.