National Cancer Institute NCI Cancer Bulletin: A Trusted Source for Cancer Research News
April 7, 2009 • Volume 6 / Number 7

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Director's Update

New Resources for a Bright Future

Dr. John E. Niederhuber Dr. John E. Niederhuber

The Obama administration's economic stimulus package, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, is a prime topic of discussion in official Washington and, one would certainly expect, at dinner tables across America, as well. Commonly referred to as ARRA, the $787 billion stimulus plan aims to create and protect jobs and help stabilize our nation's economy. It is also a commitment to American ingenuity. When he signed ARRA into law February 17, President Obama said, "I hope this investment will ignite our imagination once more, spurring new discoveries and breakthroughs in science, in medicine, in energy, to make our economy stronger and our nation more secure and our planet safer for our children."

I and the other leaders of NCI take most seriously all that the President has asked us to accomplish with ARRA funds, including his admonition that we act with a heightened sense of public accountability and transparency. We will not allow this infusion of nearly $1.3 billion to simply fund business as usual at NCI. We will expand and protect America's scientific workforce; we will invest in the next generation of science and scientists; and we will launch a coordinated platform to both support and nurture the virtual explosion of scientific discovery in the still-young 21st century. ARRA is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, which requires our very best efforts and our strongest vision.

Visit www.cancer.gov/recovery for the latest information available about the implementation of ARRA and NCI-specific funding opportunities.

One of the most tangible signs of NCI's commitment to outstanding science—and to the goals of ARRA—will be our vigorous support of individual laboratory and translational investigators who receive Research Project Grants, better known as R01 grants. In the 2008 fiscal year, NCI funded 3,732 R01 grants, principally at research universities across the United States. Using the increased appropriation that, for the current fiscal year, gives NCI an increase of about 3 percent, we will raise the R01 payline (the line of demarcation between grants that will and will not be funded, based on the results of peer review) for 5-year grants. Although our planning for the allocation of ARRA funds is not yet complete, we hope to allocate a substantial amount to further increase the payline, through a combination of 2-year and longer-term grants. Likewise, we will significantly increase the payline for the Star R01 grants that are designated for young, first-time grantees.

NCI also plans to vigorously support an initiative to assist research universities in helping new faculty members establish their university careers and launch their laboratories.

Importantly, we realize that across the cancer research enterprise, new knowledge of the genetic basis of cancer, coupled with dramatic improvements in the technologies that drive these discoveries, will necessitate a rebalancing of our scientific workforce, in some cases toward more directed research. Huge volumes of data coming from genome-wide studies are elucidating a range of questions from the genetic alterations of cancer initiation to the origins of metastasis to the influence of genes on behavior. From this knowledge we must come to better understand cancer's causal pathways and functional biology and then convert what may today be considered "undruggable" into tomorrow's "druggable" target.

Moving forward—in an effort enhanced by ARRA funds—NCI will expand a drug development platform which will help give structure and greater scientific support to the path from discovery to patient delivery. This unified, unparalleled translational science program will require data integration and a renewed push for development of electronic medical records through NCI's caBIG and BIG Health initiatives; state-of-the-art biospecimen collection, tissue characterization, cataloguing, and analysis through the new caHUB program; and the commitment and contributions of biologists, chemists, informaticians, and clinical scientists. One key component of this drug development platform will be the introduction of electronic health records at the community level, a move that will enable the creation of a national cohort of highly characterized patients, to facilitate translational research of the future. In short, NCI's drug development initiative will help lead to the much-talked-about era of personalized medicine, when we will use our knowledge of the genetics of cancer and of patients to create individualized methods of prevention, diagnosis, and treatment.

Recently, I and other NIH leaders attended a House Appropriations subcommittee hearing on Capitol Hill with Dr. Raynard Kington, the acting director of NIH. One member of the panel asked what areas of exciting research would be the most appropriate for the President to cite as examples of progress, as proof that the national investment in biomedical research matters. I believe that NCI's actions most affirmatively answer his question: We are exploiting every opportunity to advance cancer science and offer solutions to every cancer patient.

Dr. John E. Niederhuber
Director, National Cancer Institute