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NCI Presents 13 Research Concepts to Board of Scientific Advisors

, by Paulette Gray, Ph.D.

Paulette Gray, Ph.D., Director of NCI's Division of Extramural Activities

NCI’s Director of the Division of Extramural Activities, Dr. Paulette Gray, details the 13 research concepts presented to the Board of Scientific Advisors at their May 12 meeting. These concepts could total more than $250 million for all award years and cover a wide spectrum of scientific disciplines and priorities.

On May 12, 2020, the NCI Board of Scientific Advisors convened to hear from NCI leaders and consider a full agenda of future NCI research opportunities. For nearly 25 years, the NCI Board of Scientific Advisors—or BSA as we refer to it—has exercised a broad mandate to offer scientific advice to NCI. This mandate includes the review of concept plans for future extramural research opportunities NCI intends to issue. 

As the lead federal agency for cancer research, NCI relies on advisory committees such as the BSA to offer expert, objective advice on many elements of the National Cancer Program. The meeting agenda on May 12, which included 13 research concepts spanning a range of disciplines, was a strong reminder that—even in the era of COVID-19—NCI and the extramural research community are eager to make further progress on fundamental cancer science priorities. Or, as NCI Director Dr. Ned Sharpless regularly reminds us, “Cancer research and cancer patients remain Job #1 at NCI.”

NCI program leaders presented a spectrum of research concepts to the BSA, including priorities such as tobacco cessation, gaining a deeper understanding of the roots of rural cancer disparities, exploring factors that cause cancer to emerge in older populations, determining the drugs and dosages to successfully treat pediatric cancers, and many other science priorities. 

The NCI extramural grants and contracts for the 12 concepts the BSA endorsed (one concept was deferred for further review) could total more than $250 million for all award years. However, the investigator-initiated research projects supported by R01 grants remain the backbone of NCI extramural research. Funding for awards that eventually emerge from concepts presented to the BSA amount to less than 15% of the NCI grants portfolio.

Research Concepts BSA Considered

The following are highlights of three research concepts presented to the BSA. Links to all concepts on the May 12 BSA agenda also appear below. Through these links you will find additional details. Research concepts are the result of a rigorous development process at NCI that typically begins a year or more before a concept is presented at a BSA meeting. 

Glioblastoma Therapeutics Network – Glioblastoma is a fast-growing central nervous system tumor that is difficult to treat and has a very poor prognosis: 5-year survival is 5% or less. The research concept that NCI presented to the BSA responds to the insights of a working group convened by another NCI advisory committee, the Clinical Trials Advisory Committee, to identify research gaps and define scientific opportunities to achieve progress against glioblastoma. Using the U19 grants mechanism based on 5-year awards, the concept would establish a national therapeutics network capable of driving therapeutic agents through the early drug development stages into pilot clinical studies in humans. Other options include repurposing and testing approved drugs or combinations of therapies that may be effective in treating glioblastoma.

CISNET Incubator Program for New Cancer Sites – The Cancer Intervention and Surveillance Modeling Network (CISNET) is a consortium of NCI-sponsored investigators who use simulation modeling to improve our understanding of cancer control interventions for prevention, screening, and treatment. NCI inaugurated the CISNET program in 2000, and the BSA considered a CISNET concept to renew the program for a fifth 5-year cycle. In the current cycle, CISNET priorities include breast, cervical, colorectal, lung, prostate, and esophageal cancers. NCI funds CISNET awards through the U01 cooperative agreement mechanism. 

Pediatric Preclinical Testing Public Private Partnership (PPTP3) – PPTP3 is an NCI program that uses 5-year awards to systematically evaluate therapeutic agents for childhood cancers. The goal of this collaboration is to generate preclinical data to help pediatric oncology researchers identify new agents that show significant activity against certain childhood cancers. The PPTP3 concept anticipates funding through the U01 mechanism, with a U24 coordinating center. PPTP3 is one example of NCI efforts to accelerate the discovery of more effective treatments for children with cancer.

Word cloud based on key words in the RFA title

NCI RFA Concepts Presented at the May 12 BSA Meeting  

NCI posted a videocast of the May 12 BSA meeting, where you can view all the presentations delivered by NCI program leaders and hear discussion of the research concepts by BSA members. You can also access the BSA agenda and other resources through the NCI Division of Extramural Activities BSA web page

Glioblastoma Therapeutics Network, presented by Dr. Suzanne Forry

Tobacco Cessation, HIV, and Comorbidities in Low- and Middle-Income Countries, presented by Dr. Mark Parascandola

Aging, Cancer Initiating Cells, and Cancer Development, presented by Dr. Margaret Klauzinska

Small Business Innovation Research for FY 2021 Contract Topics, presented by Dr. Greg Evans

NCI SBIR High-Risk / High-Reward Innovative Concept Award, presented by Dr. Deepa Narayanan

CISNET Incubator Program for New Cancer Sites, presented by Dr. Rocky Feuer

NCI and FNIH Pediatric Preclinical Testing Public-Private Partnership (PPTP3), presented by Dr. Malcolm Smith

Limited Competition RFA: International Agency for Research on Cancer Monographs Program, presented by Dr. Ron Johnson

Low-Dose CT Image Library to Facilitate AI for Lung Cancer Screening, presented by Dr. Paul Pinsky 
Please Note: The BSA considered and recommended to defer this concept. The concept may return to the BSA for review at a future meeting date.

Social and Behavioral Intervention Research to Address Modifiable Risk Factors for Cancer in Rural Populations (PAR), presented by Dr. Kelly D. Blake 

3D Technologies to Accelerate HTAN Atlas Building Efforts, presented by Dr. Philipp Oberdoerffer

Cancer Moonshot Data Visualization Methods and Tools Development, presented by Dr. David Miller

Serological Science for COVID-19, presented by Dr. Dinah Singer
This research concept supports the NCI plan for a multi-faceted collaborative program of serological science that includes Centers of Excellence, Capacity Building Centers, and individual serological research projects. In a forthcoming Bottom Line Blog post, Dr. Singer will outline the details of the NCI serological science initiative related to COVID-19.   

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