CTRC Director's Update for July
Ian M. Thompson, Jr., M.D.
In the corporate world, investment in research and development (R&D) is a major priority. This research improves the performance and value of your product, be it car, phone or laptop, always with the goal of improving customer satisfaction. Even during the challenging economic year of 2011, large companies invested about 11% of their net sales in R&D.
But the federal government’s investment in the R&D of the health of the people is a miniscule fraction of that.
In the case of our investment in the people of our nation — improving the health of all of us — the primary source of grants for innovative R&D is the National Institutes of Health (NIH). The NIH budget in 2015 is about $30 billion; within this, the National Cancer Institute’s budget is about $4.9 billion. By comparison, the entire U.S. federal budget is $3.9 trillion, making the R&D investment by the U.S. government 0.7% of the federal budget and the R&D investment in cancer about 0.1% of the budget.
With the growing and aging U.S. population, we must do a better job of preventing diseases like cancer and we simply have to do a better job of treating them when they do occur. We are fortunate that, across the U.S., we have an army of scientists and physicians who are poised to do the necessary research and, with the extraordinary advances in technology, the armaments for this war are available. In cancer, we also have a network of 69 National Cancer Institute-designated cancer centers, like the CTRC, that have a single focus: reducing the burden of cancer.
We now must support that army.
In the face of shrinking resources, the CTRC is achieving this — with the help of some crucial allies. While most institutions across the U.S. have seen a fall in grant funding, the CTRC has witnessed an increase in grant funding for cancer research over the past several years. An important part of the increase has been through the remarkable vision of the leaders and citizens of Texas who created the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas. CPRIT has provided opportunities for extremely important research, both clinical and basic, to be performed in Texas and has allowed Texas academic institutions and cancer centers to recruit the most successful scientists to our state.
But I’d also like to recognize many of our staunchest supporters; individuals and organizations who have made possible some of the most innovative research ever done. Philanthropy has often launched original projects, and we have numerous examples of that right here. These contributions and gifts allow scientists and physician-scientists to invest resources into ideas that often would not be supported by standard grant mechanisms because they may be considered too “high risk”.
The CTRC’s pilot research program has been remarkably successful in this area, providing grants ranging from $10,000 to $100,000 to individuals or teams to conduct preliminary experiments. If these experiments show promising initial results, they can be incorporated into major grant applications to submit to the National Institutes of Health or the National Cancer Institute.
This success can be seen in the almost 20-fold return on investment of these pilot grants in the figure. The sources of these funds include research endowments at the CTRC, support from the CTRC Foundation and individual contributions.
The individual contributions are perhaps the most personal, and stunningly successful, examples of R&D by members of our community.
After learning about these pilot scientific projects, several individuals in the San Antonio community decided to fund individual pilot grants. We put the projects through stringent peer review to ensure that the community members can choose among the most meritorious. But they get to know more than the science. These community members become acquainted with the scientist they are supporting and follow their progress over the years. Words cannot describe their enjoyment of these relationships as well as the impact on cancer science discovery.
How, in an austere research funding environment, can the CTRC have had such success in building the scientific and clinical infrastructure at our cancer center? It is due to the commitment and perseverance of an army: our staff, scientists, and physicians, the devoted support of the University of Texas System, the leaders of the Health Science Center, and thousands of supporters in San Antonio, Texas, as well as around the U.S. I am personally profoundly grateful to all of you who have made this possible, and it is our privilege to be San Antonio and South Texas’ Cancer Center.