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Cancer Grand Challenges Invites Global Teams to Submit Research Proposals

, by Dr. Douglas R. Lowy and Dr. Dinah S. Singer, NCI Deputy Directors

Dr. Singer and Dr. Lowy

Dr. Douglas R. Lowy, NCI Principal Deputy Director and Dr. Dinah S. Singer, NCI Deputy Director for Scientific Strategy and Development

Drs. Lowy and Singer discuss the new round of nine research challenges as part of the Cancer Grand Challenges program and invite international, interdisciplinary teams to submit Expressions of Interest by June 22, 2023. In 2024, up to four teams will each receive about $25 million across five years to conduct their research.  

Last month, we were pleased to join our colleagues from Cancer Research UK to unveil a new round of nine research challenges at the Cancer Grand Challenges Scientific Summit in London. Cancer Grand Challenges is a research initiative jointly sponsored by NCI and Cancer Research UK.  

As partners in this initiative, NCI and Cancer Research UK invite international, interdisciplinary teams to formulate and submit research concepts that outline the approach they would use to address one of the nine new scientific challenges (listed below). In 2024, up to four winning teams will each receive about $25 million across five years to conduct their research. 

These nine challenges were chosen from more than 300 ideas generated through international workshops and open invitations for bold ideas from the cancer research community and people affected by cancer. Of these, the most compelling ideas were evaluated by an international panel of experts in cancer research. The panel then provided its recommendations to Cancer Research UK. As funding partners, NCI and Cancer Research UK made the final selections of the nine Cancer Grand Challenges for this round. 

Cancer Grand Challenges aims to inspire bold new ideas that offer the greatest potential to advance cancer research and improve outcomes for people affected by cancer. The release of the new challenges is an exciting opportunity to build on the Cancer Grand Challenges awards issued in 2022 to four international teams. Collectively, the members of the four teams hail from 30 research institutions.

The Nine New Challenges

By posing these new challenges, and catalyzing global teams of interdisciplinary researchers to come together and think differently, we are confident we will find bold new solutions to problems that have confounded scientists for many years.​

View the live stream announcement of the nine new challenges and details on the individual challenges below. 

Solid tumors in children:  Seeks to identify new therapies that target drivers of solid tumors in children, to improve survival and reduce the lifelong side effects caused by existing treatments. 

Cancer inequities:  Seeks to understand the relative contributions of genetics, biology, and social drivers on cancer causes to provide foundational knowledge that could be used to develop novel approaches to reduce cancer inequities and disparities. 

Obesity, physical activity, and cancer:  Seeks to understand the biological processes by which obesity and physical activity impact cancer risk to better inform the development of interventions to alter risk. 

Aging and cancer:  Seeks to understand how the molecular changes associated with aging contribute to cancer risk in different organs. This knowledge could be used to develop new targeted interventions to lower cancer risk in aging populations. 

T-cell receptors:  Aims to improve our understanding of how T cells, a type of immune cell, recognize cancer cells to improve and broaden the success of cancer immunotherapies. 

Early-onset cancers:  Aims to understand the mechanisms underpinning the biological and environmental factors behind the rise in early-onset cancers, diagnosed in adults under 50 years of age, so that this knowledge can be used to ultimately develop interventions to protect populations at risk. 

Cancer cell plasticity:  Seeks to expand our understanding of how cancer cells can change their identity by adopting the characteristics of different cells, which can contribute to cancer progression and therapy resistance, and how this could be regulated to improve the effectiveness of cancer therapies.   

Retrotransposable elements:  Seeks to understand how retrotransposable elements (parts of our DNA that come from viruses that infected us millions of years ago and can jump to different locations in our DNA) contribute to the development and progression of certain types of cancers. 

Chemotherapy-induced neurotoxicities:  Seeks to better understand how some chemotherapies cause particular side effects, such as long-term damage to the nervous system, and ultimately to better inform approaches to prevent and treat these to improve patients’ quality of life.

Cancer Grand Challenges Application Process

We encourage investigators from interested research institutions to organize into international teams focused on tackling one of the nine challenges. 

To begin the process, teams should complete a simple pre-submission questionnaire, which will be used to confirm their eligibility. 

Once eligibility is confirmed, teams will receive an application form for an Expression of Interest, which they should complete by following the Expression of Interest Guidelines

The deadline to submit an Expression of Interest is June 22, 2023. 

An expert panel will review the Expressions of Interest to consider which teams should receive seed funding to prepare final applications, which will be due October 26, 2023. The expert panel will convene again to review the final applications. Thereafter, NCI and Cancer Research UK plan to issue $25 million awards to four teams in 2024. 

For more information or questions about the process, interested researchers can contact the Cancer Grand Challenges helpline at

Milestone Date
Launch of Cancer Grand Challenges questions 3/8/2023
Expressions of Interest due 6/22/2023
Announcement of those selected to submit a full application 7/2023
Full application deadline for shortlisted teams 10/26/2023
Interviews for shortlisted teams 12/2023
Final teams publicly announced 3/2024

In the prior round, which led to four teams receiving awards in 2022, 169 research teams from more than 60 countries submitted Expression of Interest proposals outlining how they would tackle one of the Cancer Grand Challenges. The four funded teams are executing their research plans, and we are beginning to see promising results. 

The bottom line: By joining forces, NCI and Cancer Research UK are working to accelerate the pace of cancer discovery by stimulating scientific creativity of the highest caliber. Together, we plan to award funding to international, interdisciplinary teams with research ideas capable of making bold advances in cancer science to improve outcomes for all people affected by cancer.

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