American Association for Cancer Research

AACR CANCER POLICY MONITOR

CPM

                                                                                                              JULY 2009

SENATE HEARING INVESTIGATES CANCER RESEARCH GRANT PROCESS

 

Senator Specter convenes field hearing to examine NCI's process for awarding breakthrough research

Senator Arlen Specter (D-PA) heard testimony from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and a panel of cancer researchers in the Philadelphia region on July 6 about the National Cancer Institute's (NCI) process for awarding innovative ideas and projects.

Motivated by a recent New York Times article that scrutinized the process by which the NCI funds projects, Specter quickly organized the hearing to gain the perspective of researchers in the field. The article alleged that the NCI more often rewards non-controversial, incremental projects that are unlikely to result in groundbreaking discoveries related to treating and curing cancer.

Conceding that flaws exist in NCI's peer review system, the consensus among the panelists was that it is still the best system for ensuring that the highest quality work is funded. The panelists agreed that improvements could be made, and explained that they often seek private funds, patent revenues and special NIH/NCI grants to fund innovative work that is not supported through traditional means. 

A fundamental problem the researchers identified was the success rate for grants at NIH and NCI is currently so low that many high-quality grants are no longer supported. The panelists recommended that the success rate be increased from about one in 10 to one in three by increasing the budget for individual research awards. Lawrence Tabak, D.D.S., Ph.D., principal acting deputy director for the NIH, who testified on the first panel and was invited to speak at the hearing's close said that he would take all the comments back to NIH.

Specter, a two-time survivor of Hodgkins disease, is a veteran member of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services which is responsible for allocating federal funding to the NIH and NCI.

 

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