The Center for Strategic Scientific Initiatives (CSSI) is an operating entity of the Office of the Director (OD), National Cancer Institute (NCI). The beginning of CSSI dates back to the late 1990s with the creation of the Unconventional Innovation Program (UIP), trans-divisional Integrated Molecular Analysis Technologies program (IMAT), and Cancer Genome Anatomy Program (CGAP). Building upon the success of these initial programs, the concept of an innovation center for NCI began to develop in 2002 to not only capitalize on advances in areas such as genomics and nanotechnology but also to ensure that state-of-the-art foundational resources are broadly available to all cancer researchers. Established in 2004, CSSI serves as a strategic focus for innovative programs that range from exploratory pilot programs to the development of national resources that serve the overall cancer research community. In aggregate, these efforts are designed to accelerate progress toward future of individualized cancer medicine.
The conceptual framework for the Center evolved to include a continuum inclusive of foundational resources and standards development programs that would be critical to the work of nearly all cancer and biomedical research communities (e.g., biospecimens, bioinformatics, biomarkers); large-scale genomics programs, exploration and development of advanced technology programs that could support advances in cancer research; new ideas and fields of science to both further explore and build the science for an emerging area (e.g., nanotechnology) and anticipate future scientific opportunities; and finally, new higher risk areas that may not be mainstream but hold promise to inform cancer research in ways that may question existing paradigms and lead to hypothesis testing.
Overall the concept of an innovation center as part of the NCI's portfolio is in keeping with similar efforts in both the government and private sectors. The Center was established to undertake programs that will enable all NCI Divisions and Centers and the investigators they serve and concomitantly to allow the Institute to explore new ideas and fields of science to both further explore and build the science for an emerging area (e.g., nanotechnology) and anticipate future scientific opportunities and directions.
The Center's approach is embodied in its name. All of CSSI's programs begin with a series of strategic meetings with extramural scientists and experts from the private and public sectors. From these think tanks, consensus ideas and input are generated in derivative reports – and evolve and mature into proposals that are first presented to the NCI Executive Committee (EC) for review. All CSSI programs then receive a second level of review by the NCI's Board of Scientific Advisors (BSA) and funding approval by the National Cancer Advisory Board (NCAB). Both the BSA and NCAB receive regular updates on selected programs from the Center.
Since its inception, CSSI has undertaken a number of programs and initiatives that have contributed significantly to addressing major barriers and opportunities in cancer research. All of these initiatives are also designed to enable advances that can be translated to the clinic and substantially impact patient care. The Center's programs vary in their maturity and achievement, but overall they are focused on scientific excellence and have all achieved their goals. As in any innovation center, not all ideas are accepted or developed. Some are developed to a point and then repositioned within the NCI. The intent of the Center is to maintain initiatives as long as needed to address the problem/opportunity identified, but not to become entitlement programs. CSSI is succeeding as an innovation center, and the programs that constitute the Center are examples of how programs can both address major barriers and enrich opportunities for individual investigators.