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Next Round of Grant Solicitations for Provocative Questions Announced

, by NCI Staff

NCI recently issued a new solicitation for research proposals under the Provocative Questions (PQ) Initiative, a program aimed at promoting cancer-related research on important yet understudied areas or research questions that have proven difficult to address.

The most recent PQ Requests for Applications (RFAs)—RFA-CA-15-008 and RFA-CA-15-009—include 12 questions. Over the next 2 years, NCI will dedicate up to approximately $40 million as part of the initiative to support up to 40 R01 grants and up to 20 R21 grants that address these new questions.

The PQ Initiative was launched in 2011 to build on specific advances in cancer biology and cancer control, and to address critical questions about cancer biology that were largely unresolved.

Projects funded under the program have the promise to produce results in the next 5 to 10 years, explained Emily Greenspan, Ph.D., PQ Program Director in NCI’s Center for Strategic Scientific Initiatives (CSSI). The questions do not come from NCI leadership, but rather are generated from the cancer research community through NCI-sponsored workshops, Dr. Greenspan said.

For the first time, in addition to workshops held in the United States, NCI added a global perspective to the program in 2014 by holding PQ workshops in India. India was selected in large part, Dr. Greenspan explained, in response to the enthusiasm of Indian scientists for this initiative.

As with previous solicitations under the PQ Initiative, the new questions address a broad range of topics. For example, the latest solicitation includes requests for research proposals to:

  • identify the molecular and/or cellular mechanisms responsible for, or that contribute to chronic, severe side effects caused by cancer therapy
  • explain why there can be dramatic differences in cancer incidence in tissues that are closely related (e.g., cancers that form in the left versus the right colon)
  • promote the development of imaging technologies that can identify and quantify different cell types in tumors and their microenvironment
  • identify ways to induce physicians and health systems to abandon ineffective interventions or discourage adoption of unproven interventions

The PQ Initiative is highly competitive, Dr. Greenspan said; less than 15 percent of applications in previous application cycles were funded. In addition, the set-aside budget for this new round of RFAs is smaller than previous rounds, she said, largely because it includes fewer questions than previous PQ solicitations.

PQ grants funded from previous years have already made headway in solving difficult problems in cancer research, Dr. Greenspan noted. For example, teams studying the biology of metastasis and the contribution of obesity to cancer risk have moved these fields forward in areas about which little was previously known.

Research projects that have been funded through the PQ Initiative can be found on the NIH RePORTER by searching for the following RFA numbers:

  • 2011: RFA-CA-11-011 and RFA-CA-11-012
  • 2012: RFA-CA-12-015 through RFA-CA-12-022
  • 2013:  RFA-CA-13-016 through RFA-CA-13-025
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