Accelerating progress in cancer research: What is needed?
Margaret L. Kripke
M. D. Anderson Cancer Center, Houston, TX, USA
Background: During the four decades since passage of the National Cancer Act, cancer research has greatly improved our understanding of the nature of this disease and has led to substantial reductions in the death rates of certain cancers. However, in recent years, progress in reducing overall mortality from cancer has been frustratingly slow. In addition, the incidence of some cancers is increasing for unknown reasons, and little or no progress has been made in reducing mortality from certain types of cancer. In 2010–2011 the President’s Cancer Panel explored what could be done to accelerate progress in research that would have a positive impact on reducing the cancer burden. A number of barriers to research progress were identified. These included unstable funding levels for cancer research, a risk-averse academic research climate, the strong focus on treating advanced cancer, a research culture that favors creating new knowledge over reducing the cancer burden, and a time-consuming and inefficient clinical trials system. Clearly, innovation and collaboration must be rewarded if major transformative, rather than incremental progress is to be made. Some of the Panel’s recommendations are that (1) grant review mechanisms be revised to encourage higher risk, more innovative, research, (2) the focus of cancer research be shifted toward prevention, (3) strategies be devised to stabilize funding for cancer research, (4) innovative clinical trial design be supported, (5) imaging and other technologies with potential to accelerate progress in research and patient care be developed further, and (6) mechanisms for sharing data and research materials be implemented. Continuing current strategies is unlikely to accelerate the pace of discoveries to the extent needed if we are to dramatically reduce the cancer burden.