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NCI Encourages More Collaborative Research to Accelerate Cancer Science

, by Drs. Phil Castle, Jim Doroshow, Dan Gallahan, Katrina Goddard, and Toby Hecht

In this issue of the NCI Bottom Line blog, read why NCI leaders are encouraging investigators to apply for a program project (P01) grant. P01 grants involve the type of broad, multidisciplinary collaboration likely to yield meaningful results for cancer science and patients.

Headshots of five NCI leaders (Castle, Doroshow, Gallahan, Goddard, and Hecht)

From left to right, Philip E. Castle, Ph.D., M.P.H., James Doroshow, M.D., Dan Gallahan, Ph.D., Katrina A. B. Goddard, Ph.D., and Toby T. Hecht, Ph.D.

Over the past decade, NCI has encouraged collaborative research around a unifying scientific goal that allows for effective information sharing and research synergy. The critical role of innovative team science to accelerate cancer discovery is one of the themes of the new National Cancer Plan

Program project (P01) grants offer an opportunity for integrated research programs to more rapidly answer critical questions about complex issues in any area of cancer research, from key aspects of tumor biology to supportive care needs of cancer survivors. The P01 grant mechanism provides a broader and complementary approach to individual research projects (R01s), which have a more narrow scope and focus. The P01 mechanism is also different from a multi–principal investigator R01 in terms of its breadth, scope, and structure, which is more limited for the R01 mechanism, even those with multidisciplinary teams. The combination of skills, perspectives, and resources that is achieved in program projects has the potential to advance cancer science and produce better outcomes than if the projects were conducted in isolation. 

What is a program project (P01)? 

A P01 includes at least three interrelated research projects, each capable of standing on its own scientific merit. Each individual research project should be a distinct effort led by an independent investigator. Connections and synergy between research projects are a key component for a successful P01 application.  

Applicants must include an administrative core that provides organizational and management support, monitors progress, and provides effective coordination and communication within the program. One or more optional scientific cores—such as biostatistical support, data management, qualitative research methods support, analytic tools, or biospecimen management—may also be proposed. 

NCI invites P01 applications in any of the broad areas of cancer research, including but not limited to studies of cancer biology, prevention, screening/early detection, diagnosis, treatment, and control. Basic, translational, clinical, and/or population-based studies are appropriate. 

What do you mean by synergy or interconnected research topics? 

A program project generally involves the organized efforts of relatively large groups conducting multidisciplinary or transdisciplinary research. Synergy involves sharing ideas and resources generated by individual projects and cores that will inform the other projects. 

Examples of synergies include sharing data, samples, reagents, pathogens, participant populations, technologies, research approaches, and model organisms. For example, one project with a clinical trial might inform a second project through the transfer of specimens. 

NCI’s P01 portfolio continues to grow  

Over the past decade, NCI has seen solid growth in the number of P01 applications, with the exception of the 2 years during the COVID-19 pandemic. Overall, P01 applications have a relatively high success rate compared with other mechanisms, such as the R01 mechanism. There are likely many reasons for this difference, including the rigorous preapplication process for P01 grants, which involves meeting with NCI program staff in a presubmission meeting. In addition, there are fewer P01 applications overall compared with the number of R01 applications.  

NCI is committed to diversifying the pool of investigators contributing to cancer research. Individuals from diverse backgrounds, including those from underrepresented groups (NOT-OD-20-031) in the biomedical, clinical, behavioral, and social sciences research workforce, are encouraged to apply to the P01 mechanism. NCI also encourages P01 applicants to build diverse teams of scientists that include early-stage investigators. 

NCI would like to see the use of the P01 mechanism continue to grow, and we welcome investigators to apply for a program project. 

If I’m interested in applying for an investigator-initiated P01, what should I do next? 

NCI strongly suggests interested investigators review the funding opportunity announcement and speak with their NCI program officer for guidance. The P01 submission process is more rigorous than the R01 submission process and requires additional steps. 

Investigators are invited to set up a presubmission meeting with NCI staff. The meeting typically takes place about 6 to 9 months before submitting an application. The purpose of this meeting is to provide additional guidance on how research ideas fit within the P01 mechanism. 

Per NCI policy, prior approval is required to submit an application requesting direct costs of $500,000 or more, which should be submitted at least 8 weeks prior to the application deadline.  

The NCI team is here to help along the way, and we encourage interested investigators to ask questions and seek support.  

The bottom line: NCI desires more growth in diverse teams of researchers undertaking collaborative efforts around unifying scientific goals. We encourage investigators to apply for a P01 grant to support these approaches. The nature of the P01 mechanism requires the type of broad, multidisciplinary collaboration likely to yield meaningful results for cancer science and patients. 

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