The Power of International Collaboration

Guest blog post from Stephanie Birkey Reffey, Ph.D. – Director, Research Evaluation at Susan G. Komen for the Cure

Today is an important day for cancer research – the International Cancer Research Partnership (ICRP) released its inaugural Data Report.  This report is the first international analysis of cancer research that is based on individual research projects and programs instead of aggregated or estimated figures.  More than 50 cancer research funding organizations, including Susan G. Komen for the Cure, shared data with each other and worked together to create this report, and in so doing, created a powerful collaborative movement among cancer researchers.

The ICRP report represents the culmination of more than a decade of work.  Prior to 2000, cancer research funding organizations were unable to compare their research activities with each other because there was no common language.  However, in 2000, Komen joined nine other organizations at the inaugural meeting of what would ultimately become the ICRP.  The intent of that first meeting was for participating organizations to work together to implement a system for classifying research grants so that they could compare and contrast their investments in cancer research with the goal of identifying what was being funded (and what wasn’t) so that funding organizations could work more efficiently and better fulfill the needs of the cancer research community.

Map of ICRP Partners

At that first meeting, participating organizations agreed to adopt a classification system that had been developed by the National Cancer Institute and the Department of Defense’s Congressionally Directed Medical Research Programs – the Common Scientific Outline (CSO).  The CSO classifies research projects according to their area(s) of focus:   (1) biology, (2) etiology (the causes of disease), (3) prevention, (4) early detection, diagnosis, and prognosis, (5) treatment, (6) cancer control and survivorship, and (7) scientific model systems.  The CSO also includes a standard cancer site coding scheme to identify which type(s) of cancer are being studied.  By breaking down research projects into meaningful categories, the CSO enables any organization that uses it to compare and contrast its research with any other organization using the same system.

The ICRP report shows us that, in the years 2005 through 2008, the annual investment in cancer research by ICRP partners ranged from $4.6 to $4.8 billion per year.  We can also see that in 2005, 19% of the total investment in cancer research went towards breast cancer ($905 million).  By 2008, that number had increased to 20.6% ($996 million).

The report also shows the overall investment in cancer research by CSO category, and breaks it down by cancer site as well as individual partner organization.  For example, the report shows that research focused on breast cancer during these years was distributed across all the CSO categories, with most breast cancer research addressing the basic biology of breast cancer (23%) and treatments for breast cancer (22%) and the least being directed at prevention strategies (6%) and scientific models (3%).  When we look at Komen’s research portfolio, we can see that we also invested mostly in research focused on basic breast cancer biology during the reporting period (30-31%), but we show a statistically significant increase in research focused on the etiology (causes) of breast cancer (from 6.1% to 10.9%) from 2005 to 2008.

As Komen’s Director, Research Evaluation, I am responsible for the classification of Komen’s research portfolio using the CSO and for reporting on our investments in these and other topic areas.  Thus, I have had the privilege of representing Komen on the ICRP since 2010 and have been honored to serve in the position of ICRP Chair for 2011 and 2012.  As a participating member of this group, I have seen the power of this international collaboration and the intent of the Partners to collaborate with one another, share best practices in research management and administration, form collaborative partnerships, and strategically coordinate their investments in cancer research to maximize the impact of cancer research for all individuals affected by cancer around the world.

About the author

Susan G. Komen has written 256 articles for Susan G. Komen® | Blog

Nancy G. Brinker promised her dying sister, Susan G. Komen, she would do everything in her power to end breast cancer forever. In 1982, that promise became Susan G. Komen and launched the global breast cancer movement. Today, Komen is the world’s largest grassroots network of breast cancer survivors and activists fighting to save lives, empower people, ensure quality care for all and energize science to find the cures. Thanks to events like the Komen Race for the Cure®, we have invested more than $1.9 billion to fulfill our promise, becoming the largest source of nonprofit funds dedicated to the fight against breast cancer in the world.