Medical researchers teamed up with hedge fund managers on Wednesday to offer a new million-dollar prize for the best new idea for cancer research in the hopes of kick-starting innovative approaches.
They invited cancer experts, scientists and the general public to join an Internet-based club and compete for the Gotham Prize for Cancer Research.
Federal funding of cancer research has been flat, and is in fact lower than in recent years when inflation is taken into account, said Gary Curhan of Harvard Medical School.
And the system of seeking grants--money to do research--is based around pleasing either National Institutes of Health supervisors or gatekeepers at the advocacy organizations that pay for research on specific types of cancer, he said.
Curhan teamed up with hedge fund managers Joel Greenblatt and Robert Goldstein of private investment firm Gotham Capital to set up the prize club.
"The goal here is to open up the site to people with ideas," Curhan told reporters in a telephone briefing.
"The winners of these prizes are not going to be those who are successful in evaluating the idea. It is going to be the person with the best idea."
Members post an essay or thesis outlining their ideas. Cancer researchers will be invited to peruse the ideas. At the end of the year cancer experts such as Bert Vogelstein of Johns Hopkins University, one of the best-known researchers in colon cancer and cancer genes, will judge the entries.
"I have seen firsthand how many ideas with incredible potential never reach fruition," Curhan said. "We will only make significant progress in cancer research by, and by building on each other's knowledge."
People who want to make individual contributions to a particular researcher, as opposed to making a general donation to a charity, are also invited to look at the site.
Curhan stressed he does not believe the NIH is unimaginative in funding research.
"Most of the work is incremental just because of the long tradition and because people tend not to pick risks. And you tend to write grants to what you think will get funded as opposed to your most innovative idea," he said.
"If you want to study something that may be relatively rare, it is not going to be given the same priority as something that is more common such as breast cancer or prostate cancer."
The prize was launched at the Ira Sohn Investment Research Conference, a charity cancer event named after a trader who died of cancer at the age of 29. A second, $250,000 prize will be offered for pediatric oncology.