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Building on Opportunities in Cancer Research: NCI’s Annual Plan and Budget Proposal for FY 2016

December 2, 2014, by Harold Varmus, M.D., Director, NCI

Harold Varmus, M.D.

Harold Varmus, M.D.

Matthew Septimus

This is a time of remarkable opportunity in cancer research. Armed with broad knowledge about how various kinds of cancer arise and with powerful new research tools, the cancer research community, under the leadership of the National Cancer Institute (NCI), is poised to reduce the burden of cancer in this country and around the world at an accelerated pace.

The NCI’s goal is to support research that ultimately leads to important clinical outcomes: improvements in prevention, diagnosis, and treatment that can reduce the incidence, morbidity, and mortality of all types of cancer. Making sustained progress, however, requires a wide range of research disciplines that span the continuum from basic science to clinical research to research on implementation and cancer care delivery.

They include a variety of:

  • basic sciences, such as genetics, genomics, cell biology, immunology, and nanotechnology;
  • translational and clinical sciences, such as drug development and testing, diagnostics, and the discovery and development of molecular markers, advanced imaging technologies, and new radiotherapy techniques;
  • population sciences, such as population genetics, epidemiology, and environmental sciences; and behavioral sciences.

Virtually all major advances toward the goal of improving the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of cancer depend on many kinds of science. Cancer research is also cumulative. Today’s investments in basic science will provide tomorrow’s opportunities in clinical research.

The NCI’s broad responsibilities for supporting research are severely tested during fiscally austere times that require a delicate balancing of its resources. This is especially true during long periods when budgets do not keep pace with inflation, as has occurred over the past decade. (The temporary budget increases in 2009 and 2010 associated with the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act [ARRA] were exceptions to this trend.) NCI-supported activities include:

  • funding thousands of grants to individual scientists and teams in many fields;
  • supporting a national infrastructure for clinical research;
  • training the next generation of researchers in diverse disciplines; and 
  • maintaining the NCI-Designated Cancer Centers and the NCI intramural research program.

The NCI is attuned to the changing understanding of cancer and seeks to manage its resources to take advantage of the most promising scientific opportunities. Yet, despite careful management, current budget limitations mean that many meritorious research proposals, including some proposing bold concepts, must still go unfunded each year. NCI's Annual Plan and Budget Proposal provides examples of the scientific opportunities before us. You will see that exciting progress is being made. But, for the many Americans diagnosed with cancer each day, progress is not being made quickly enough.

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