The Importance of Seed Money

BY Kelly Lange

I used to wonder just how beneficial our small grants are. Does a $40,000 grant really make a difference? According to big-name researchers like Patricia Steeg, PhD, and Danny Welch, PhD, yes, it does!

Researchers have told me time and time again that it is extremely difficult to get seed money to fund new ideas. Organizations that give large sums of money for research expect a reasonable chance that the research will be successful, and thus, tend to fund studies that explore ideas for which data has already been collected. Therefore, in order to show that an idea has merit, you must have some data. And you need data to get money. So, how do you generate data with no money?

It is a real problem for researchers who have great new ideas and no way to test them. That’s why these small grants are so valuable. A $40,000 grant will allow a researcher to devote part of every work week to a specific, METAvivor approved and funded project that could be the next great breakthrough. The rest of his/her time can be spent working on those big dollar projects that keep the lab afloat. If the idea has merit, this small grant will allow the researcher to produce enough data to go after the big bucks – even the holy grail of funding – the NIH R01 grant.

Traditionally, researchers have squirreled away funds from one project to initiate another related project and generate preliminary data for the innovative/high risk studies. However, the NIH budget has dropped a whopping 1.8 billion dollars in 2013 (a five percent decrease from 2012). Exacerbating the situation is the fact that much of the remaining funds are already promised to multi-year R01 grant awardees from 2010. This leaves very few funds for smaller grants meant to encourage innovative and high-risk/high-reward ideas. It is no wonder then that a small organization such as METAvivor has seen a dramatic increase in number and quality of applications.

Small grants like those given by METAvivor are not only a welcome relief to researchers, they also have provided a great opportunity for our organization to shape the research funding landscape. While scientific pursuit is embarked with noble intentions, the realities of keeping the lab running and securing tenure often force the researcher to “follow the money.” If funds are available only for prevention research, then prevention is what scientists will study. A lean funding environment, however, puts an organization like ours on par with bigger funding agencies and helps us direct the focus (and funds) toward the more important and innovative scientific queries. When funding for NIH is restored in the coming years (fingers and toes crossed!!), our awardees will have the preliminary data and competitive edge to win larger grants to further metastatic breast cancer research.

As our organization has grown, we have been able to expand our grants to include an optional second year of funding. If the results of the first year of work are promising, we offer funding for a second year with a path forward to the R01 style application. We are hoping that all four of our 2013 recipients are successful and able to achieve a second year of funding. With your help, we will also be able to fund four (or more!) additional new projects next year.

We will be announcing this year’s winning grant proposals soon. I want to take this opportunity to thank our scientific review board, who volunteered a great many hours reviewing this year’s applications. The review process is very rigorous and time consuming, and we appreciate their help. I also want to thank our Director of Research, Dr. Arti Santhanam, who has donated countless hours setting up our grant program, and processing all of our applications. She has done the work of ten people in the last two months, while starting a business and raising her young daughter.

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