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NCI Director’s Message: Fiscal Year 2022 Annual Plan & Budget Proposal

NCI Director Dr. Norman E. Sharpless

Credit: National Institutes of Health

Maintaining Our Focus on the Future

Decades of sustained investment in biomedical research have led to tremendous progress against cancer. This long-term commitment has driven our understanding of the biology of cancer and uncovered new approaches to prevention, screening, diagnosis, and treatment of cancer. Many of these discoveries have directly benefited biomedical fields well beyond cancer.

These strides were made possible by continued support from Congress, the dedication of scientists, the commitment of the cancer research advocacy community, and—most importantly—the involvement of patients, survivors, and their loved ones.

We now know that cancer is not one, but thousands of different diseases. And yet, as much as we have learned, important gaps remain in our understanding of cancer.

I have personally witnessed the physical, emotional, and financial toll exacted by cancer. That toll has been compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic, in part because people with cancer may be at increased risk for complications from COVID-19. In addition, interruptions in health care services and concerns about exposure to the virus have led to delayed cancer screenings, diagnoses, and treatment. Early analyses suggest that these factors could result in thousands of additional cancer deaths in the years ahead.

NCI’s long history and expertise in navigating uncertainty and tackling the seemingly insurmountable leave us well positioned to confront today’s—and tomorrow’s—challenges. While contributing our scientific expertise to the current public health crisis, we remain focused on our top priority: cancer research. We have taken steps to ensure that the cancer research engine continues operating—not simply to maintain the status quo, but to accelerate progress for the future.

Recent events have focused the world’s eyes on the continuing racial injustice in America. Inequity persists in cancer as well, as certain groups still face an increased risk of developing or dying from particular cancers. NCI has a long record of supporting research to better understand and overcome these cancer health disparities, and we are committed to continuing this crucial work.

We also must do more to increase diversity in the cancer research workforce to ensure that it reflects the diverse communities we serve. The perspectives and talents of populations underrepresented in the sciences are vitally important to the future growth of all areas of cancer research and care.

In recent years, NCI has seen a dramatic increase in new investigators entering the cancer field, as evidenced by a nearly 50% increase in grant applications submitted to NCI. Sustained budget increases across the cancer research continuum are critical to continue fueling excitement in the field and funding highly meritorious research proposals. It is NCI-funded investigator-initiated basic research that has served as the source of the most innovative and transformative work in cancer research, including work that has culminated in several Nobel Prizes in the last two decades.

As we approach the 50-year anniversary of the signing of the National Cancer Act of 1971, I’m reminded that the improvements we’ve seen in cancer care have been thanks to investments in basic science. Progress has been fueled by patients who have pushed for cures and scientists who have refused to give up. We cannot afford to turn away from promising research opportunities today, such as those laid out in this Annual Plan & Budget Proposal. With the nation’s support, nothing will stop us from advancing our understanding of cancer and reducing its burden—not just for some, but for all people.

NCI’S COVID-19 Response


Although the COVID-19 pandemic has greatly disrupted daily life, NCI's top priority is, and always will be, to advance cancer research and reduce the burden of cancer. NCI is taking steps to meet the needs of people with cancer and to keep the nation's cancer research enterprise operating with as few disruptions as possible.

Priorities for People with Cancer

  • Providing clear information about cancer and COVID-19
  • Limiting disruptions to ongoing cancer clinical trials
  • Providing care to trial participants while minimizing their risk of exposure

Priorities for Cancer Researchers

  • Supporting grantees whose work has been disrupted by the pandemic
  • Extending funding application deadlines
  • Quickly funding research on COVID-19 and cancer


NCI has unique resources and expertise to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, including advanced technologies at the NCI-sponsored Frederick National Laboratory for Cancer Research and decades-long support of research on the immune system and cancer and cancer-associated viruses. NCI has mobilized its nationwide research infrastructure to:

  • Conduct studies of patients with cancer and COVID-19
  • Develop and evaluate SARS-CoV-2 antibody tests and support research on serological sciences
  • Search for and test compounds to treat patients with COVID-19
“NCI has tremendous expertise and unique research capabilities that make our participation in the response to this pandemic a moral obligation.”

—NCI Director Dr. Norman E. Sharpless

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