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Flash back to the early 1990s breast cancer awareness was just beginning to take off. A passionate grassroots advocacy movement demanded more federal funding for breast cancer research.

Congress responded by appropriating funds in 1993 to the Department of Defense, to establish and oversee the Breast Cancer Research Program, a peer-reviewed funding program. The BCRP was the first of many disease-focused programs to be managed by the Congressionally Directed Medical Research Programs at Fort Detrick, Md.

Over the last 20 years, advocates have lobbied for congressional funds to continue the BCRP every year, which has resulted in more than $2.8 billion to support breast cancer research.

The BCRP strives to make breakthroughs in breast cancer happen by fostering new approaches in research and by setting precedents in the research process.

One approach the BCRP introduced was to fund early-phase research ideas. In its initial years, the BCRP developed funding mechanisms called the Idea Award and the Concept Award, which support the pursuit of creative ideas and exploration of highly innovative new concepts, with little or no preliminary data.

At the time, it was determined that such high-risk, but potentially high-reward research was significantly underfunded by existing funding sources. Despite the high risk, several studies have led to breakthroughs that are now in clinical trials. For example, two Fiscal Year 1999 Concept Awards supported preclinical studies on new targeted therapies (MM-111 and Her2 bi-armed activated T cells) that are now in early-phase clinical trials. A discovery made in a FY96 Idea Award led to the development of a therapeutic vaccine (NeuVax™) that is now entering Phase III clinical trials.

The BCRP continues to enable the scientific community to propose their most innovative and high-risk/high-impact ideas that could lead to clinical breakthroughs.

Another approach the BCRP introduced was to integrate breast cancer advocates (consumers) into key aspects of the research process, providing a unique perspective and a sense of urgency. Consumers serve together with scientists on panels that review, evaluate, and select research projects for BCRP funding. Such a partnership was unprecedented when the BCRP was established, and the BCRP became a model for integrating the expertise of scientists and consumers in peer review.

Importantly, BCRP award mechanisms have also transformed the role of breast cancer consumers as integrated partners on research teams. One example is a FY05 Center of Excellence Award that focused on brain metastasis, an advanced stage of breast cancer with no curative treatment options. Research breakthroughs from this team-based award helped move three drugs (Saracatinib, TPI-287, and Vorinostat) into clinical trials to treat brain metastasis, and one drug (Lapatinib) into clinical trials to prevent brain metastasis.

Consumers on the research team not only played a major role in planning and developing the research studies, but they also led the development of BrainMetsBC.org, an online resource to provide scientific information as well as support for patients with brain metastasis. Partnerships between scientists and advocates continue to be a part of BCRP award mechanisms and a hallmark of how the program strives for breakthroughs that will hopefully lead to an end to breast cancer.

For more information on the BCRP, go to http://cdmrp.army.mil/bcrp/default.shtml.