U.S. National Cancer Institute to fund more research

Medical technician performs cancer research in a handout photo. REUTERS/Newscom

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The federal government’s stimulus package plus budget increases will give the National Cancer Institute enough money to raise by a third the number of research projects it pays for, the agency’s director said on Monday.

The agency also will broaden a project to study the DNA of tumors to try and find better treatments, Dr. John Niederhuber told a meeting in Denver of the American Association for Cancer research.

The stimulus package approved in March allocates $10.4 billion to the National Institutes of Health, and the cancer institute will get $1.3 billion of that money in 2009 and 2010 in a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Niederhuber said.

Niederhuber told the meeting the NCI considered how the stimulus money could best be used. The discussions, he said, focused on ways to prevent cancer and diagnose it earlier, as well as new therapies with fewer side-effects that “turn cancer into a condition you can live with and not die from.”

The cancer institute now pays for about the top 12 percent of research grant applications. With the extra funding in the new budget, this can go to 16 percent and with the added stimulus money, fully a quarter of all grants can be funded, Niederhuber said.

“As you well know, these are not simply science projects,” he said. “They are laboratories that employ technicians and other highly skilled workers. They are places where experienced investigators work to develop doctoral students and fellows into the next generation of laboratory and clinical scientists.”

More money will go to researchers who have not previously received National Cancer Institute funding, Niederhuber said.

Cancer is the No. 2 killer of Americans, behind heart disease. The NCI’s annual budget was $4.9 billion in 2008 and is around $6 billion this year.

Reporting by Maggie Fox; Editing by Julie Steenhuysen and Bill Trott