DoD Congressionally-Directed Medical Programs -2007

“Mr. Smith Goes to Washington…

or, My Taxes Being Spent Wisely”…….D. S. Most

Last year I was nominated to be a Consumer Reviewer and to participate in a program that determined which research grant requests for prostate cancer might be funded from a special pot of congressionally directed money.

As it turned out, they did not need me last year but promised that I would be on the list for this year. They did call and so I went to Washington to participate.

The program is called the CDMRP, military-speak for Congressionally Directed Medical Research Program. In the 1990’s Congress responded to pressure from the breast cancer lobby and created a pool of money to fund research grants apart from those of the NIH.

The NIH, at that time, would not agree to dedicate funds for specific cancer diseases. The CDMRP program was to fill that gap, and due to the integrity of the programs, the DoD Breast Cancer Research Program has been funded by Congress.

The prostate community began lobbying Congress for some of the same kind of research funds and, beginning in FY96, Congress allocated about $10 million to kickoff the program. Since then, the “prostate pot” has grown to $80 million while breast cancer has leveled off at $120 million.

The Program itself has grown to where funds are allocated to an even wider assortment of specific diseases: neurofibromatosis, tuberous sclerosis, ovarian cancer, chronic myologenous leukemia, traumatic brain injuries, and PTSD.

My role as a “Consumer Reviewer”(CR) was to read and score about 14 grant requests as to their impact on the consumer. It’s a strange choice of terms but that’s how the Military look at cancer survivors; we are “consumers” of the output from the approved research grants.

Even some of the scientist reviewers I met thought it a strange choice of terms.

The Program Administrators sent us the proposals by FedEx and also published them on a web site to which we were granted password access. We had to read the grant applications and score them according to a very specific list of criteria.

The company that administered the whole program was The Constella Group, headquartered in Durham, NC with offices in Frederick, MD. This is a large consulting company that specializes in all kinds of health related issues in the USA as well as overseas. They even assigned a “mentor” to those of us who were first-timers. My mentor was from Pocahontas, Arkansas. He was a big help guiding me through the intricacies.

In the hotel in Reston, Va. we went through an orientation session to learn what was expected of us. Each moment of our time was carefully scheduled and pre-planned. Actual grant reviews began on the first evening after our arrival following an early dinner! I thought that was a bit strange but that’s how they chose to begin the program.

I and two other CR’s were assigned to a Review Panel that consisted of twelve practicing research scientists, each of whom had at least one PhD and a few of whom who also had second professional degrees, e.g., PhD/MD or PhD/MPH, etc.

Ours was but one of several similar panels which had to deal with all the grant requests that were looking for a piece of the $80 million pot. The Constella Group had done a great job in recruiting such powerful panels of research peers to conduct these reviews.

Because all the CR’s in the various panels were prostate cancer survivors and activists of one stripe or another, we shared a common bond and similar motivation. It has been a very long time since I had any real connection to the academic world and this experience was an eye opener.

Out of the twelve scientists on our panel, there were three black female PhD’s, two black male MD’s, one Chinese female MD/PhD, one female PhD Argentinean (who classified herself as Hispanic), one Indian female PhD, and three old white guys as CR prostate survivors, plus a few white-Anglo male PhD’s.

It was, in fact, a dramatic picture of what has been happening in American education over the last 30 or 40 years. DIVERSITY jumped up and bit me smack on the butt!! It was a high point of the whole meeting to me.

Each scientist and each CR had been assigned to read and review between 8 and 20 grant requests. The scientist reviewers were asked to look at the hypotheses being proposed and tested and to evaluate the research strategy planned. They also were expected to comment on the grant’s proposed budget.

We CR types were expected to comment on the potential “impact” and “innovation” of the proposals as they related to prostate cancer. Once the panel discussions got started we could, and did, get fully involved in them. And the scientists welcomed our inputs and complimented the CR’s at the end of the whole event.

All told it was one of the most exciting things I’ve done since I survived my own cancer. Seeing this small part of our massive Washington bureaucracy working so well was gratifying.

I know that at least some of the proposals we reviewed will be funded and will advance the PCa wars!!

Posted July 2007

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