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NIH, NCI Heads Emphasize Translational Opportunities in Cancer Research at AACR

By Andrea Anderson

WASHINGTON, DC (GenomeWeb News) – At the American Association for Cancer Research annual meeting here this week, the directors of both the National Institutes of Health and the National Cancer Institute highlighted the importance of transforming basic cancer research into improved patient care.

During his talk on exceptional opportunities for cancer research, National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins described some national programs and strategies for bolstering such translational research.

While he expressed enthusiasm about the possibility of a "revolution" in cancer diagnoses and treatment over the next 10 to 15 years and beyond, Collins said realizing that goal will require sufficient resources, effective partnerships between public and private entities, and complementary studies by individual investigators and research consortiums to tackle the complexity of cancer.

Among the programs designed to support translational cancer research, Collins pointed to initiatives such as the NIH's Molecular Libraries Roadmap project and NCI's Experimental Therapeutics Program.

He also noted that the health care reform bill contains language for the formation of a new Cures Acceleration Network to support translational research. Some $500 million in funding has been authorized but not yet appropriated for CAN, he said.

In addition, Collins encouraged academic investigators to get more involved in the drug production pipeline — not only in identifying promising targets but also in coming up with assays to spur therapeutic testing and validation.

He touted a recent partnership between NIH and the US Food and Drug Administration, called the NIH-FDA Joint Leadership Council, as a possible path towards supporting science that is regulatory-review ready.

In his own address at the AACR meeting on Monday, National Cancer Institute Director John Niederhuber touched on a wide range of research areas that cancer encompasses — from cancer biology and tumor microenvironment to biomarker and drug development.

Despite this complexity, he said, the goal of all cancer research is the same: making a difference in clinical practice. As such, Niederhuber said, NCI will continue to emphasize strategies for improving patient care and decreasing health care costs.

"We have a lot of work to do to understand how to do that, how to make it effective, and to make a difference," he said.

For example, he said, collaboration, coordination, and interactions are needed between multiple research centers within NCI and beyond. And given the massive amounts of data being generated by projects such as the Cancer Genome Atlas, Niederhuber added, strategies for effectively storing, securing, and analyzing data are all increasingly important.

"Moving from data, to function, to target, to therapy will not be simple," the NCI Director wrote in a summary of his update, "but NCI is firmly committed to lead the National Cancer Program to realize the promise of personalized cancer medicine."