Supporting Quality Research Remains NCI's Top Priority
I had the opportunity once again to provide the NCI Director's update at the American Association for Cancer Research meeting in Los Angeles.
It was an honor as a long-standing member of the organization to participate in the annual meeting as the NCI Director. I am pleased to see the significant growth and outstanding progress made by our organization.
During my talk, I took the opportunity to discuss some areas of research that I find particularly intriguing - including cancer stem cells and potential diagnostic applications of chromosome location mapping, for example - and to address some of the issues that are part of the conversation in the scientific community about the NCI budget and its potential impact on the future of cancer research.
For even the most venerable cancer researchers, the current budgetary environment is a cause for anxiety. And that concern is understandable. Because of increased costs for everything from rent to utilities, an essentially flat budget since 2004 has translated into a 12-percent reduction in NCI's purchasing power over that time period. That has real consequences for NCI, its employees, and the researchers who rely on our support.
Yet, NCI remains committed to finding ways to fund quality research. The success rate of competing RPGs, which has fallen considerably since the end of the doubling of the NIH budget in 2003, is largely attributable to a tremendous spike in the number of applications. It's important to stress that the number of awards has remained stable.
Although the bulk of applications are approved after their initial submission, there are numerous instances where funding doesn't come until two application revisions over several years. We're going to be working with NIH to take a closer look at researchers in these situations, who may be eligible for bridge funding to keep their research programs operating during the application revision and resubmission process.
As I also have noted previously, we are particularly focused on protecting and supporting young investigators. The number of NCI-funded new investigators has continued to climb, with the payline for those grants in some circumstances extended by up to 6 percentile points. And in the last review round, in fact, I personally reviewed those applications from new investigators that fell just short upon their initial review to determine which would be selected for an exception.
As usual, AACR highlighted some of the most exciting and innovative work being done in cancer research. I'd like to congratulate the organization on reaching its 100th anniversary, and thank all of its members for everything they are doing to decrease the cancer burden.
Dr. John E. Niederhuber