Ruminations

Blog dedicated primarily to randomly selected news items; comments reflecting personal perceptions

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Levelling The Funding Field

"Everyone has the same goals in mind. The same goals are impacting cancer, preventing cancer, treating it better, improving the quality and length of life of people who are affected by cancer."
"Everyone knows it will not be a single project done by a single agency that will get us there."
"An alliance such as CCRA [Canadian Cancer Research Alliance] is helpful, but it can't mandate a change in focus or direction or targeting."
Elizabeth Eisenhauer, head, Department of Oncology, Queen's University School of Medicine

"Why did it [decision to target the most under-funded cancers] take so long? Tough question."
"It could be that you don't have capacity -- maybe you don't have researchers working in that area who have been trained in and thought about the disease. It could be that the disease has been addressed in a way that just hasn't made any difference."
"Ten years [to see research results] in the lifespan of the human species is nothing. It's less than a blink of an eye."
Jack Siemiatycki, professor of epidemiology, Universite de Montreal

"We have way too many funding vehicles."
"Politicians like to create new things. I think one thing we should be doing is consolidating, taking a look at how many agencies we have."
Jim Woodgett, cancer researcher, director of research, Lunenfeld-Tanenbaum Research Institute

"It would change the face of cancer research and cancer care in this country [his foundation's plan for collaboration and data-sharing]."
"Canada has some of the best researchers in the world. They try to share ideas, but there's just not a great infrastructure to allow it to happen."
Britt Andersen, executive director, Terry Fox Foundation
Cancer

In the United Kingdom, a single charity is responsible for funding most of the research undertaken in Great Britain. It makes good sense that if a single entity is held responsible for distributing funding for vital research it has at its disposal all the necessary data it needs for decision-making. That little-to-no redundancies occur. That administrative costs are kept to a relative minimum, unlike a whole horde of funding bodies operating on their own with little communication between them. And the fact that some types of cancer have funding momentum behind them while others, perhaps more deadly do not, because the better-funded ones have vigorous self-interested campaigns.

A single funding body would be, in theory neutral. It would base its decisions on funding equality leavened by the understanding that some deadly cancers do require a greater focus, awareness and research dollars. As things stand at the present time in Canada, none of this is adequately addressed. And though it is well known that some campaigns have been hugely successful in focusing public notice and fund-raising because the kind of cancer it represents benefits from a sturdy level of support from survivors, while other cancers with an abysmally low survival rate have no one to help publicize its deadly effects and call for more funding, the inequality resists change.

The fragmented funding in Canada has been the subject of much conversation and debate in the medical research community. Basically, it is a situation where competition for scarce research dollars triumphs over common-sense funding for all cancer research projects impacting the lives of the public, particularly those whose morbidity remains high but which languishes because their incidence rate fails to resonate in the public eye and ear without the aggressive publicizing of survivors, because there are none.


The Canadian Cancer Research Alliance (CCRA) was born in the early 2000s. It has succeeded in ensuring a 60 percent increase in funding projects, while partnering with agencies from 2008 to 2011. Despite which, that funding disparity continues to exist. One area in which little has been done is research into cancer prevention, surely as vital a goal to achieve as cures. But prevention is allocated roughly two percent of total funding. Funding evaluations of research looking into the effectiveness of anti-smoking campaigns in high schools, for example.

Professor Siemiatycki puts this kind of situation down to agencies having a preference for research more likely to produce results in shorter time-spans, a success story that can be placed in an annual report to convincingly demonstrate to donors or taxpayers how well their investments have succeeded in producing needed answers to such vexing problems.  He cites the kind of research that focused on the realization that smoking causes cancer, a more lengthy project, taking over a decade to come to its conclusion.

Additionally, universities and hospitals have a tendency to take on staff researchers in fields attractive to funding which alone guarantees that disproportionate funding for grant proposals, reflecting a result that comes with over-funded, over-studied areas. The Canadian Institutes of Health Research's Institute of Cancer Research announced a grant program recently targeting the most under-funded and deadliest of cancers; lung, pancreas and liver, which sounded timely. But researchers were concerned over the CIHR's newly introduced grant review process meant to simplify and standardize applications.

And then, what was meant to move things along, led instead to chaos. And that led to over 1,200 scientists signing an open letter to protest the changes, delivered to the CIHR last summer, convincing it to return to the face-to-face peer review of old. And as far as Jim Woodgett is concerned, there are simply too many researchers competing in a shrinking funding pool, with too many funding agencies administering that pool.

The recent focus by the public on the announcement last summer by Tragically Hip frontman Gord Downie, of his diagnosis of brain cancer too far advanced to treat, was viewed as a potential catalyst to enlist a greater public reaction in research funding, augmenting limited research dollars and directing them toward high-mortality-rate cancers. The current reality is that vigorous campaigning by women has resulted in a disproportionate share of funding going toward breast cancer research, where the survival rate has ascended year-after-year.

“While breast cancer is the highest funded, it is the most common non-skin related cancer in women and also can behave differently based on the features of the disease,” the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation said. “It is precisely the research funding that has been allocated thus far that has allowed incredible breakthroughs in the treatment of breast cancer… and has resulted in the improvement in mortality that we see today.” - See more at: http://news.nationalpost.com/features/the-fundraising-complex#sthash.Y3PoBs6A.dpuf
“While breast cancer is the highest funded, it is the most common non-skin related cancer in women and also can behave differently based on the features of the disease,” the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation said. “It is precisely the research funding that has been allocated thus far that has allowed incredible breakthroughs in the treatment of breast cancer… and has resulted in the improvement in mortality that we see today.” - See more at: http://news.nationalpost.com/features/the-fundraising-complex#sthash.Y3PoBs6A.dpuf
“While breast cancer is the highest funded, it is the most common non-skin related cancer in women and also can behave differently based on the features of the disease,” the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation said. “It is precisely the research funding that has been allocated thus far that has allowed incredible breakthroughs in the treatment of breast cancer… and has resulted in the improvement in mortality that we see today.” - See more at: http://news.nationalpost.com/features/the-fundraising-complex#sthash.Y3PoBs6A.dpuf

Cancer

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