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NCI Intramural Program Challenged to ‘Reinvent Itself’

NCI Intramural Program Challenged to ‘Reinvent Itself’

BETHESDA, Md—Members of the National Cancer Institute’s intramural program, NCI’s corps of in-house investigators, have been challenged to reinvent the program into one of the nation’s great cancer research centers.

“This will require us to think in new ways about the program’s structure and about how its science is done,” said NCI director Richard D. Klausner, MD.

The effort is another sign of a turn around in the Institute’s once lamented intramural efforts. When Dr. Klausner became NCI director in 1995, the program was regarded as poorly managed and much of its research as undistinguished. One of his first priorities as director was to restructure and refocus the program.

“We believe the intramural program has been greatly improved in management and in expectations of quality,” Dr. Klausner said. “Now I have asked the program, led by the intramural advisory board, how it defines itself and what it needs to become a great cancer research center.”

Vision of Greatness

Dr. Klausner discussed his vision of this greatness emerging on the NIH grounds during his regular director’s report to members of the National Cancer Advisory Board (NCAB). During the meeting, he also reported on research grants during fiscal year 2000 and the reorganized Cancer Information Service (CIS) (see box, right).

Previous assessments of the intramural program have focused on each laboratory and branch, the NCI director noted, “but not in stepping back and looking at the intramural NCI program as, in essence, a unique and potentially very powerful cancer center.”

There is both enthusiasm for and anxiety about the anticipated changes among intramural researchers and staff, he acknowledged.

Changes Already in Progress

Dr. Klausner said some changes are already in progress. For example, intramural scientists can now join with outside investigators to compete for grants in major NCI initiatives, such as the cancer-imaging consortium.

“This is very important to the success of both the intramural program and the national program,” Dr. Klausner commented.

In meetings with division directors and investigators, Dr. Klausner said, he has “challenged the intramural program to get much more involved in implementing the issues of the National Cancer


A major priority in this regard is the molecular targets program, a new movement that seeks to identify and use specific molecular findings for cancer prevention and therapy. He also wants NCI clinical researchers to develop trials of molecular targets that evaluate their effectiveness in the prevention and treatment of cancer.

“This is going to represent a real change in the intramural program,” Dr. Klausner commented. And it is raising issues within NCI about how the Institute’s budget will be distributed, how the new internal competitive process will work, and how the work of NCI researchers is evaluated.

FY 2000 Grants

Although final figures for FY 2000 were not yet available, Dr. Klausner said that about 75% of NCI’s $3.311 billion budget went to fund about 1,165 research grants. The total number of grants remained essentially the same as in FY 1999, but the average dollar amount per grant increased significantly.

A major new area of growth was the development of a new array of training programs, he added. Career training grants rose to about 400 in FY 2000, about 150 more than in FY 1999.

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