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Four multinational, interdisciplinary teams selected to address major challenges in cancer

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The Cancer Grand Challenges program will award $100 million to four interdisciplinary teams from around the world to solve some of the toughest challenges in cancer research. Each team will receive $25 million over five years. The teams were announced at the Cancer Grand Challenges Summit on June 16, 2022, in Washington, D.C.

The National Cancer Institute (NCI) and Cancer Research UK, the world’s leading funders of cancer research, partnered to launch the Cancer Grand Challenges program. Cancer Grand Challenges aims to provide multiple rounds of funding for multidisciplinary research teams from around the world whose novel ideas have the greatest potential to advance cancer research and improve outcomes for people affected by cancer. 

The research being conducted by the four selected teams includes investigation of 1) a muscle-wasting condition in cancer patients known as cachexia, 2) the biology of extrachromosomal DNA in cancer 3) new therapies for solid tumors in children, and 4) what triggers normal cells harboring cancer-causing mutations to become tumor cells.

“The partnership with Cancer Research UK to develop the projects funded for the Cancer Grand Challenges program will enable a global collaboration on a disease that has touched everyone around the world,” said Douglas R. Lowy, M.D., acting director of NCI. “We’re confident these multidisciplinary teams of scientists — with the flexibility and scale to innovate and carry out cutting-edge research — will be able to address several critical cancer research problems that can advance the understanding of cancer and benefit patients.”

“Cancer is a global issue that demands global collaboration. By investing in team science at this scale, we will bring new thinking to problems that have, for too long, stood in the way of progress,” said David Scott, Ph.D., director of Cancer Grand Challenges, Cancer Research UK. “At its core, Cancer Grand Challenges provides multidisciplinary teams the time, space, and freedom to innovate and drive progress against cancer that the world urgently needs. The new teams join a growing global community already making major discoveries, including unlocking new information about the tumor microenvironment and transforming our understanding of the early stages of disease development."

A total of 169 research teams from more than 60 countries submitted preliminary proposals outlining how they would tackle one of the nine challenges posed by the Cancer Grand Challenges program. From those submissions, 11 teams were chosen by an expert group — which included input from a patient committee — to receive seed funding to develop their ideas into full proposals. Four funded teams, representing four of the challenges, were selected from those proposals.

The winning teams (by their chosen names) and challenges include:

  • The CANCAN team will explore cancer cachexia as a tumor-driven syndrome. Cachexia is a debilitating muscle wasting syndrome that dramatically affects quality of life and survival for many people with advanced cancer. The team is led by Eileen White, Ph.D., Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey; Marcus DaSilva Goncalves, M.D., Ph.D., Weill Cornell Medicine, New York City; and Tobias Janowitz, M.D., Ph.D., Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, New York.
  • The eDyNAmiC team seeks to understand the creation and action of extrachromosomal DNA (ecDNA), which helps tumors evolve and evade treatment. They are also developing new ways to target these mechanisms in cancer. The team is led by Paul Mischel, M.D., Stanford University.
  • The NexTGen team will work to develop engineered T-cell therapies for childhood cancer. They will also explore whether changing the tumor microenvironment can help make treatments more effective. The team is led by Catherine Bollard, M.D., Children’s National Hospital, Washington, D.C.; and Martin Pule, University College London.
  • The PROMINENT team aims to discover what triggers normal cells to become cancerous to inform prevention. They will explore how carcinogens and other mutation-forming factors help turn a normal cell into a tumor cell. The team is led by Allan Balmain, Ph.D., University of California San Francisco; Paul Brennan, Ph.D., International Agency for Research on Cancer; and Núria López Bigas, Ph.D., Institute for Research in Biomedicine Barcelona.

“Through this unique partnership, Cancer Grand Challenges fosters scientific creativity of the highest order, giving priority to innovative ideas that are beyond what can be supported through more traditional mechanisms,” said Dinah S. Singer, Ph.D., NCI deputy director for scientific strategy and development.

The next funding rounds of the NCI-Cancer Research UK partnership are planned for 2023 and 2025. For more information about the Cancer Grand Challenges program, visit https://www.cancer.gov/cancer-grand-challenges.  

About the National Cancer Institute (NCI): NCI leads the National Cancer Program and NIH’s efforts to dramatically reduce the prevalence of cancer and improve the lives of cancer patients and their families, through research into prevention and cancer biology, the development of new interventions, and the training and mentoring of new researchers. For more information about cancer, please visit the NCI website at cancer.gov or call NCI’s contact center, the Cancer Information Service, at 1-800-4-CANCER (1-800-422-6237).

About the National Institutes of Health (NIH): NIH, the nation's medical research agency, includes 27 Institutes and Centers and is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. NIH is the primary federal agency conducting and supporting basic, clinical, and translational medical research, and is investigating the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and its programs, visit nih.gov.

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