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A Peek Behind the Scenes: The St. Baldrick’s Grant and Scientific Review Process

December 18, 2017
5 min read
Researchers looking at a transparent slide

Top: St. Baldrick’s researcher Akiko Shimamura (left) in her lab with a colleague at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle. During her St. Baldrick’s-supported study, Dr. Shimamura studied a rare group of inherited bone marrow disorders that are associated with heightened risk of cancer. Bottom: Based at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, St. Baldrick’s researcher Scott Kachlany tested a new therapeutic agent for kids with ALL during his St. Baldrick’s-supported study.

The St. Baldrick’s Foundation makes a bold statement: We support the most promising childhood cancer research, wherever it takes place.  And because we grant more childhood cancer research than any non-government funder, it’s crucial that those dollars go to the right projects. But how do we pick the right projects?

Rising to that challenge is a widely respected grant application and scientific review process created by the St. Baldrick’s Foundation.

Our stellar Scientific Advisory Committee guides the St. Baldrick’s Board of Directors in setting funding policies and procedures, while the St. Baldrick’s Grants Team works with childhood cancer researchers year-round.

This crucial department supports researchers in their quest for funding, as well as in their reporting of results.  The staff also work with the almost 200 researchers who participate in the scientific review process for grant applications.

These applications fall into a variety of categories.

Discovery Research:

  • Research Grants are one-year projects aiming to find new and better cures for childhood cancers.
  • Supportive Care Research Grants are one-year projects to improve the management of patient symptoms or quality of life during or after cancer treatment
  • Consortium Research Grants are for groups of researchers at multiple institutions, collaborating on projects with great promise

Next Generation:

  • St. Baldrick’s Summer Fellows are medical school or college students working in a pediatric oncology research lab for one summer.
  • St. Baldrick’s Fellows are new doctors who receive 2-3 years of funding for specialized training in pediatric oncology research
  • St. Baldrick’s Scholars receive 3-5 years of support of innovative ideas, at a time in their early careers when it is hard to compete for limited research dollars.
  • St. Baldrick’s International Scholars come from low- or middle-income countries to train in childhood cancer research, with a commitment to continue that work in their home countries.

In addition to these awards, St. Baldrick’s also supports the cooperative research of the Children’s Oncology Group, the revolutionary work of the Pediatric Cancer Dream Team*, the innovative St. Baldrick’s Robert J. Arceci Innovation Awards, and more.

Because there is always more great research than we can fund in any given year, each institution is allowed one application in each of the categories above, except the Research Grant category, where two are allowed.

What happens when an application (or 100) lands in the collective lap of our Grants team? This is where the rubber meets the road…

  1. Grant reviewers, who are experts in the childhood cancer research field, are grouped into committee by grant type, for instance, Fellow Grants.
  2. At least three of these experts are assigned to review each grant application. They use a set of questions unique to that funding category and a rating system that mirrors that of the National Cancer Institute.
  3. Then they score the application. If all three reviewers give an application a top score, it will be recommended for funding. An application with three poor scores will not be recommended.  And if the three reviews vary widely or fall in a range of scores too close to call, the application goes to the full committee to discuss. A vote then determines the final score.
  4. With all these scores in hand, the staff and chair of the Scientific Advisory Committee meet to determine the minimum score recommended for each type of grant.  The scientific scores rule!
  5. Final funding decisions are made by the St. Baldrick’s Board of Directors, using these scores and recommendations, according to the amount of money available to grant.

But wait, there’s more!  Each fall, the St. Baldrick’s Foundation funds a different type of grant, using a different review system.

These Infrastructure Grants do not fund research – they fund what (or who) makes research possible. Most often these grants fund the staff person who helps to open and coordinate clinical trials, called a Clinical Research Associate. This funding allows more patients to be treated close to home on cutting-edge clinical trials, often their best hope for a cure.

These grants are funded based on the need for the funding, the expected results of the grant and local St. Baldrick’s participation, making St. Baldrick’s volunteers and donors an influential part of the process.

By funding Infrastructure Grants – approximately $2 million of the $27 million funded in 2017 – St. Baldrick’s ensures that some funds are distributed in an impactful way to each local community where fundraising is significant, even if that the local institution did not receive a scientifically reviewed grant earlier in the year.

*Formerly known as the St. Baldrick’s – Stand Up to Cancer Pediatric Cancer Dream Team, this team is now the St. Baldrick’s EPICC Team (Empowering Pediatric Immunotherapies for Childhood Cancer).

Together we can take childhood back from cancer. Fund lifesaving research today.