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NCI Earmarks $39.9M to Fund Cancer Systems Biology Consortium, Coordinating Center

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb) – The National Cancer Institute announced that it intends to provide up to $37.8 million in funding over the next three fiscal years to support the Cancer Systems Biology Consortium (CSBC), a network of research centers focused on building predictive models of cancer initiation, progression, and metastasis.

Through a related funding opportunity, the agency has also earmarked $2.1 million over the next two years for a center that will coordinate the activities of CSBC member organizations.

Significant progress has been made in recent years in characterizing the genetics of cancer, as well as the molecular and cellular pathways that underlie its initiation and progression, according to the NCI. However, such research has largely focused on single parameters and therefore does not adequately address the need to understand cancers as "integrated systems of genes, networks, and intracellular interactions," according to the institute.

Indeed, high-throughput technologies such as next-generation sequencing, transcriptomics, and high-content imaging have yielded a wealth of descriptive data. Yet systems analyses and predictive modeling are necessary to integrate these various datasets in order to gain a complete understanding of the cancer process.

To that end, the NCI is establishing the CSBC to help answer questions around, for example, the impact of multiple genetic changes on phenotype, tumor dynamics and evolution, tumor heterogeneity, tumor-immune system interactions, and non-mutational influences on cancer classification and diagnosis.

CSBC research centers are expected to include investigators from a variety of disciplines and are expected to develop comprehensive research programs in cancer biology that address questions of high importance and which are not readily addressable through other research initiatives, the NCI said.

Examples include, but are not limited to, the development of dynamic, predictive models that provide an actionable understanding of the effect of multiple biological interactions and/or incorporate multi-scale, spatial analysis over varying resolution scales to describe cancer initiation, progression, and metastasis; models of networks and signal transduction pathways that can predict cancer phenotypes at the molecular, cellular, tissue, or organ level; and modeling techniques that span basic cellular mechanisms and patient/population-level responses or phenotypes.

In addition to its research projects, each CSBC center is expected to include an administrative core to oversee its activities and connect it to other consortium members, and an outreach core to coordinate scientific activities with the greater cancer systems biology community, the NCI said. Centers may also include shared resource cores to provide scientific and technical expertise to multiple research projects within a given center.

The NCI intends top commit up to $12.6 million a year over the next three fiscal years to fund between eight and 10 centers. Budget requests may not exceed $1.5 million in direct costs per year.

Additional details about the funding opportunity can be found here.

In conjunction with the establishment of the CSBC, the NCI has also set aside funding for a coordinating center tasked with integrating individual consortium research projects.

The coordinating center, the agency said, will be responsible for developing a curated resource of research coming out of CSBC centers and related research out of the NCI's Physical Sciences in Oncology initiative, overseeing a fund to be used for the promotion of collaborative research projects between CSBC members, and promoting the consortium's research goals to the broader scientific community.

The CSBC coordinating center is eligible to receive up to $750,000 in direct costs per year. Additional details about this funding opportunity can be found here.