In their quest to unlock the microscopic secrets of cancer, as many as 1,000 Canadian researchers compete for about $50 million worth of annual grants. Roughly half that amount flows from such government agencies as the Ottawa-based Medical Research Council of Canada, a Crown corporation that distributes research funds directly from the federal treasury. But the Canadian Cancer Society—through its granting affiliate, the Toronto-based National Cancer Institute of Canada (NCIC)—is the single largest source of grants, distributing about $28 million worth of public and corpo-
rate donations every year. Despite its pre-eminent position, the institute has drawn its share of criticism. Dr. Rudy Falk, a cancer surgeon at Toronto General Hospital, says that the NCIC’s granting procedures are “ridiculous.”
According to NCIC executive director Peter Scholefield, eight panels, each one consisting of eight cancer experts, approve or reject funding applications for research in such fields as epidemiology and immunology. But Falk said that the NCIC granting procedure was “incestuous,” and other scientists who conduct their investigations without
funds from the institute also charge that the panels are biased toward researchers with whom they have long-standing connections.
Scholefield acknowledged that of 260 individual grants for 1988-1989, there were 18 grants worth $100,000 a year or more—and that the NCIC awarded five of those grants to members of its own panels. Said Scholefield: “Chances are that the people most qualified to advise on cancer research will also receive the largest grants.” But, he added, “we have no hesitation in cutting people off if we no longer deem them to be outstanding.” That criterion, at least, seems beyond reproach.
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