University Cancer Research Fund panel sets priorities, adds national experts

October 18, 2007

Photograph of Dean Barbara K. Rimer

Photograph of Dean Barbara K. Rimer

The governance committee of the University Cancer Research Fund has established first-year spending priorities for the state’s initial $25 million investment at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. School of Public Health Dean Barbara K. Rimer serves on the governance committee.

The fund was created this year by the North Carolina General Assembly and signed into law by Gov. Mike Easley in July. The goal is to accelerate cancer research at UNC’s School of Medicine, Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center and the North Carolina Cancer Hospital, now under construction. The fund will increase to $50 million per year beginning in 2009.

The fund’s governance committee, chaired by UNC President Erskine Bowles, is charged with setting research funding priorities that advance understanding of the causes and course of cancer, apply this knowledge to devise new methods of prevention and treatment, and improve cancer outcomes in the state and the nation.

The committee has identified three broad areas that build upon existing strengths: discovery of the molecular and cellular processes associated with cancer and how their interaction with genetic predisposition results in cancer; innovation by using new knowledge to inform, design, evaluate and implement research in the prevention, early detection and treatment of cancer; and delivery of improved cancer care throughout North Carolina.

The fund will target seven specific research priorities under the umbrella of these strategic areas:

  • Assessing cancer in North Carolina with particular attention to disparities;
  • Promoting innovative research in cancer prevention and early detection;
  • Developing clinical application of genetics and genomics;
  • Turning basic research into new cancer therapies;
  • Defining early response to cancer therapy and improving cancer clinical trials;
  • Enhancing clinical excellence across our multidisciplinary cancer teams and across the state; and
  • Initiating a nation-leading, multi-component cancer survivorship research program.

The first-year budget also includes funds for investment in innovative research ideas through a competitive pilot or seed grants program and in promising new researchers. To assure the fund’s long-term success, the fund will establish processes for ongoing research strategic planning and evaluation.

Two nationally renowned cancer experts will serve on the fund’s governance committee. Edward Benz Jr. is president and chief executive officer of Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston. John Mendelsohn is president of the University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.

“The Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center at UNC is one of the top National Cancer Institute-designated centers in the country and has an admirable record of interaction and collaboration with other cancer centers,” said Benz, also the Richard and Susan Smith professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School.

“I am pleased to have the opportunity to work with Dr. (Shelley) Earp and the Lineberger leadership to find the very best ways that this funding can be used to advance collaborative translational science and the overall mission of the Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center,” Benz said.

“The North Carolina General Assembly was incredibly forward thinking in establishing this fund dedicated to advancing cancer research and providing the institutions here with a steady stream of support,” said Mendelsohn, a professor of cancer medicine at the University of Texas Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences.

“Today, funding for cancer research must come from a wide range of government, industry and private sources to step up findings and move those advancements to patients faster. The state’s investment today will touch the lives of millions of North Carolinians – and Americans – for decades to come,” Mendelsohn said.

Other committee members, who are UNC-Chapel Hill administrators, are Dean Robert Blouin of the School of Pharmacy; Dr. Shelton Earp, director of the Lineberger Cancer Center; and Dr. William Roper, dean of the UNC School of Medicine, vice chancellor for medical affairs and chief executive officer of the UNC Health Care System.

M. D. Anderson contact: Julie Penne, (713) 792-0662 or

Dana-Farber: William Schaller, (617) 632-5357 or

Lineberger contact: Dianne Shaw, (919) 966-5905 or