Cancer research outcomes review, 1990-2002, Cancer Council SA

Authors:


The Cancer Council South Australia (TCCSA) invested over $20 million dollars in cancer research between 1990 and 2002, mostly in project and fellowship grants. In 2002, the TCCSA Board endorsed a review of outcomes, both for accountability and planning purposes.

All 122 recipients of grants during 1990-2002 were sent a questionnaire for self-completion, covering such topics as the perceived impact of their TCCSA funded research on cancer control, gaining further research funding from other sources, patent acquisition, and health policy. Also explored was the extent to which results were published in peer-reviewed journals, were publicly available in other literature, and were the subject of presentations in scientific or other public forums. Apart from these outcomes, recipients were asked to provide their impressions of the relative importance of various categories of TCCSA research funding.

Survey recipients received multiple questionnaires when they had gained more than one TCCSA grant during 1990-2002. About 50% of those contacted provided at least one completed questionnaire in this the survey.

The majority (86%) claimed that their grant had contributed positively to their careers, two thirds of them stating that it had led to further funding from the NHMRC or other sources. About 10% had gained, or were in the process of gaining patents, and almost half indicated that they had participated in policy or other advisory bodies at least partly in response to their TCCSA grant. Over 90% had published their results in scientific journals or were submitting a report for publication. The great majority (93%) were still active in cancer research.

The Cancer Council South Australia is involved in a broad range of cancer control programs, including initiatives in prevention and early detection, non-clinical patient support, palliative care, and the application of data systems to support cancer control. Notably, for each of these areas, at least 50% of grant recipients reported that their research grants would have had no impact.

The greatest impact was reported to have been in knowledge of cancer biology and treatment gains. This reflected the most commonly funded fields, which were cell biology, followed by molecular biology, therapeutics, biochemistry and clinical trials, in that order. By comparison, relatively few grants were directed at epidemiology, health services or behavioural research. The attitudes of respondents reflected this distribution. While 99% reported that research in cancer biology was important or very important, only about a half assigned this level of importance to behavioural research and only a similar proportion did so for psycho-oncology.

The authors made a number of recommendations in response to findings, including:

  • Funding more research fellowships to support new investigators and overseas researchers wishing to return to South Australia.
  • Increasing numbers of two-year project grants, and including a small number of three-year grants, at the expense of one-year grants.
  • Increasing the proportion of grants directed at prevention and early detection, including behavioural research, community education, surveillance and epidemiology, and palliative and supportive care.
  • Developing a methodology for evaluating outcomes of funded projects and fellowships six months after termination of grants, and at three and six years, and for participation in this evaluation to be a condition of the original funding.

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