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NCI to Use Budget Bump to Expand Genomics, PHC

This article has been updated to include comments from a webcast Monday afternoon.

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – The National Cancer Institute has put in place its outline for how it plans to spend the three percent increase it received in the 2009 budget and the extra funding it expects to receive from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, NCI Director John Niederhuber said today.

As part of the $10.4 billion in the ARRA for NIH, $1.3 billion is marked to go to NCI over between 2009 and 2010.

At a meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research in Denver, Niederhuber described "an accelerated cancer genetics program," the development of "a platform for personalized cancer care," and more research grants "that will move cancer research forward in this new economic environment," as key recipients for funding.

The NCI initiatives include an expansion of the Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA) program, a personalized healthcare platform, more grants to fist-time investigators, and an increase in support for universities to use in training and assisting new faculty investigators, Niederhuber said.

"We must hasten our progress against cancer by conducting exciting new science, which this year's increase in funding, in addition to anticipated funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, will help make possible," Niederhuber said in a statement. "Because cancer research contributes to the diagnosis and treatment of many other major diseases, we anticipate NCI's efforts will lead to scientific advances necessary to improve the nation's health."

He noted that TCGA has identified three genes not previously associated with glioblastoma and has delineated as many as four subtypes of glioblastoma to date.

"With that foundation of success, we plan to move TCGA forward, with a goal of identifying all of the relevant genomic alterations in 20 to 25 major tumor types," he added in prepared statements made for his announcement at AACR.

According to an NCI statement, the personalized cancer care platform will be "based upon the knowledge that cancer is a disease of altered genes" and that it will be designed to "encompass and enable drug development, from discovery of genetic changes to clinical applications for patients."

Two other measures NCI will institute include an increase in the pay line that would make it possible to "fund a greater number of meritorious investigator-initiated projects," and a "new network of Physical Sciences-Oncology Centers to explore new and innovative approaches to better understanding and controlling cancer through the convergence of the physical sciences with cancer biology."

NCI recently outlined its major priority areas for public health genomics research, which included some comparative effectiveness research of the use of genomic markers in cancer care, pharmacogenomics studies, genomics in translational cancer research, development of candidate genomic applications for cancer prevention, management, and prognosis, and several other major priority areas.

Niederhuber said that the stimulus funds present an opportunity to "demonstrate that NCI is worthy of sustained, increased support for years to come," and that the institute should use the funds to lead "with a clear direction that will hasten the pace of cancer research."

The stimulus funding and the Federal budget funding "must not be mixed," the director continued, saying that "there are different rules, in many cases, of what can be funded from which pot of money." Because of the unique nature of the ARRA funds, "recipients of the stimulus funds will also have some stringent requirements, particularly around reporting on your stewardship of these dollars," Niederhuber explained.

NCI's plan to fund early-stage investigators involved in translational research "will assist young faculty members in establishing laboratories; in creating a foundation for a career of excellence," he said. A parallel program will be available for NCI-Designated Cancer Centers and at institutions funded through the Minority Institution/Cancer Center Partnership program.

The TCGA and the Therapeutically Available Research to Generate Effective Treatments program currently "are generating a mountain of data and revealing potential genetic defects that occur within cancer," said Niederhuber. Taking that data and moving it toward a therapy "will not be simple, nor will it be easy or inexpensive," he said.

The plan includes the creation of functional biology centers, including a virtual network of researchers that will use data from TCGA and answer specific questions about biologic function and potential druggable targets. "High throughput screening will follow, using appropriate assays, to compare the vast libraries of compounds to newly defined targets," he said.

NCI will use its caHUB program to manage the scale-up of the TCGA and to handle the genetic characterization of patients, while the NIH Clinical Center, the SPORE Program, the Community Cancer Centers Program, and others, "will all be key players in establishing a highly-characterized national cohort of patients who can be easily matched with potential new agents."

Niederhuber also called for an improved clinical trials system, "to better accommodate the validation of highly targeted therapies and to accurately assess the targeting of those therapies in patients in real time."

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