NCI-Partnered Global Research Initiative Confronts Tough Barriers to Cancer Progress

August 31, 2020 by Samantha Karam Former ONS Staff Writer

Since its inception in 2015, Cancer Research UK’s (CRUK) Cancer Grand Challenges ( initiative has led an international research effort to address the toughest barriers to progress in oncology, investing ( more than $130 million into seven international, multidisciplinary teams—total of 73 researcher groups in nine countries.

On August 27, 2020, the National Institutes of Health’s National Cancer Institute (NCI) announced its partnership ( with CRUK to further the initiative’s work, which includes cancer research projects such as 3-D tumor mapping and studying unusual mutation patterns.  

“Many of the ongoing Grand Challenge awards ( align with NCI research priorities, and our missions overlap in many ways,” Dinah S. Singer, PhD, NCI deputy director for scientific strategy and development, said ( “This initiative will expand opportunities to identify new challenges based on insights from the cancer research community and to further our understanding of cancer. We’re looking forward to the new ideas proposed by creative teams from around the world.” 

The partnership’s goals are to:  

Looking Ahead 

NCI and CRUK are hosting a series of international workshops where members of the patient community and cancer research leaders can share suggestions for what these challenges should be. NCI and CRUK will review the most compelling ideas, select the final challenges, and release ( the challenges in October 2020.  

NCI and Cancer Research UK expect to fund ( three rounds of challenges with four awards per round. Each research team will be awarded $25 million over five years.  

NCI will use ( its annual funding currently set aside for the Provocative Questions (PQ) initiative. The institute will alternate funding its PQ awards and the Cancer Grand Challenges awards each year.  

NCI and CRUK are accepting ( expressions of interest from research teams for the new challenges from October 2020—April 2021. From these, NCI and CRUKs will select teams of researchers to receive pilot funds to develop their ideas into larger, final applications.  

Those selected to receive full funding will be notified in June 2021, and the awards to final teams will be announced in 2022. A committee of patients will offer input and ideas on the patient perspective throughout the process.  

“This new partnership leverages the expertise of the world’s leading funders of cancer research in a bold effort to identify and pursue innovative ideas that address major challenges in understanding cancer,” NCI Director Norman E. Sharpless, MD said ( “We’re thrilled to join Cancer Research UK in this unique collaboration to support novel cancer research on a global scale.” 

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