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by Leo Giambarresi, Ph.D.   |   May 11, 2017

An Epicenter of Research Began with ZERO

Just last week, a major milestone for the prostate cancer community was achieved. The Congressionally-funded Department of Defense Prostate Cancer Research Program (PCRP) received its first increase in funding in more than a decade with a $10M improvement to a total of $90M.

This additional funding brings us one step closer to much-needed research that will improve the treatment of prostate cancer and one day end suffering from the disease once and for all. So, what makes the PCRP so special?

  1. What is it about, anyway?

Composed of a unique partnership involving Congress, the military, survivors of prostate cancer, physicians, and scientists, the PCRP is a major research-funding program aimed at making high impact breakthroughs. Congress makes the funds available, and specifically directs that the PCRP exclusively use these funds for peer-reviewed prostate cancer research. The PCRP was designed specifically from the ground up to synergize with and augment, rather than duplicate and compete with, the prostate cancer research efforts of other funding agencies, including the National Institutes of Health. The PCRP tailors its goals every year to ensure that the most pressing needs and biggest obstacles to achieving better treatment options and improving the quality of life for prostate cancer patients.

  1. When did it begin and what was ZERO’s role?

The history of the PCRP and ZERO has been closely intertwined for more than 20 years. The National Prostate Cancer Coalition (renamed ZERO in 2008) was originally formed to serve as a government relations and advocacy entity for the prostate cancer community, with the sole purpose of convincing Congress to create the PCRP. Initial efforts began in 1995, which led to the creation of the PCRP with funding of $40M in 1997.

A PCRP Funding Timeline:

  • By hosting the March on Washington in 1996, ZERO was a major force in spearheading the creation of the program – modelled after breast cancer research funding at the DOD.
  • There was a funding trajectory from 1999 – 2001 from $50M to $75M to $100M that was expected to continue until a cap of $150M was reached in 2003.
  • In response to the attacks on 9/11, all research efforts including the PCRP were cut back 15 percent, to $85M. In 2006, it was cut again to $80M.
  • In 2011, the PCRP was the only medical research program at the DOD not to get slashed thanks to ZERO’s fight on Capitol Hill.
  • Through a tremendous effort by ZERO’s advocates, the FY18 PCRP appropriation was increased to $90M.
  1. How is it structured to fund the research?

Once the funds from Congress reach the PCRP, researchers are notified that grants are available and they are provided with information on how to prepare and submit proposals. Typically, the PCRP receives more than 1,000 proposals each fiscal year. All of them undergo a rigorous two-level review process to determine the scientific merit of each proposal; and determine which bright ideas best meet program needs and qualify for funding.

The Level 1 review is Peer Review, where individual panels of up to 25 scientists, physicians, and patients review up to 50 proposals and score them on scientific merit. A report of the deliberations and assessment of scientific merit is prepared and sent to the Level 2 review.

Level 2, The Programmatic Review, is conducted by a group of about 15 to 20 leading prostate cancer research scientists, physicians, and knowledgeable patients and survivors to review two critical functions:

  • Setting the program vision and research priorities for the coming year.
  • Determining which ideas best fulfill the vision and priorities that were developed at the start of the fiscal year, and should be funded.

One of the hallmarks of the PCRP is that it includes prostate cancer survivors as full voting members in both levels of review to ensure that the scientists and physicians take into account the human dimension of the disease.

  1. What are the results from the PCRP?

The PCRP is one of the most effective programs in the world designed to produce treatments and, one day, a cure for prostate cancer. Funding from the PCRP has supported the development of three new treatments for advanced disease in the last six years and was instrumental in accelerating the approval of Zytiga® (abiraterone acetate) by two years. In addition, the PCRP funded research that resulted in a new diagnostic tool. 
The program is also focused on improving diagnosis to reduce overtreatment and accurately determine life-threating disease from indolent tumors.

This blog post only provides a tip of the iceberg perspective of the PCRP and its contributions. For more information, check out PCRP’s website here.