Application, review and grant allocation process

1. General

The Canadian Cancer Society Research Institute grant allocation process plays a crucial role in promoting high-quality cancer research in Canada. Donors to the Canadian Cancer Society and members of the Canadian public must be confident that funds donated for cancer research will be allocated to the most worthy scientific research activities in Canada. The Canadian Cancer Society informs the public of its activities via the website and by including community representatives on peer review panels. In addition, the Canadian Cancer Society responds to all requests from the public regarding its cancer research programs.

There are four basic steps in the adjudication and funding process: application, scientific review, advisory council review and funding decision. The following sections will highlight the process with respect to each of these areas.

2. Application process

Investigators submit an application with a research proposal detailing the aims and objectives of the research, its significance to cancer, the proposed research design and methods, available resources and, as appropriate, preliminary results.

The application itself, all materials accompanying the submission and the reviews of the application are treated as confidential materials. All reviewers are required to sign an Agreement of Confidentiality to signify that they agree to the terms respecting such confidentiality.

3. Scientific review process

The Canadian Cancer Society Research Institute uses a scientific peer review process. The aim is to ensure that the most original ideas, with the greatest scientific merit, obtain sufficient financial support to permit the ideas to be tested. Fellow scientists use a rigorous process to identify the applications which have the greatest potential for contributing to the reduction of the incidence, morbidity and mortality from cancer.

The Canadian Cancer Society Research Institute composes peer review grant panels for its competitions. The Chairs and members of the panels are highly respected Canadian and international scientists who are the scientific peers of the applicants and are chosen on the basis of their knowledge of cancer research and their capacity for scientific judgment.

(a) Grants panels

Each grant panel consists of 6-12 scientists whose terms are staggered to ensure that the composition of the panels is dynamic. If multiple panels are needed for a competition, the Chairs of the panels first decide which Panel has the appropriate expertise to review each application. Once the application has been directed to a panel, at least two reviewers are assigned to each application.

If a Chair feels that additional expertise is needed to provide an adequate appraisal of any application, an external reviewer with expert knowledge in the area may be secured. In addition, the members of the grant panel are encouraged to consult knowledgeable colleagues or known experts in the field if needed, while maintaining the confidentiality of the application.

All members of the Panel are requested to read the application, but only the ‘assigned’ reviewers, are required to provide written reports.

The community representatives provide accountability for the program. They are unbiased public-representatives who are often cancer survivors and/or have affiliations with a cancer-related organization. Nominations are solicited from within the Canadian Cancer Society staff and volunteers, however, nominations from other cancer related organizations may be considered. Community representatives are asked to comment on the significance, cancer relevance and project clarity of all applications and are able to ask questions of the other panel members. Their participation ensures the objectivity and integrity of the review process and assists in stewarding the donor and funders’ investment in cancer research. They do not assign ratings to the applications, however, their comments form part of the written Scientific Officer’s report that are provided to each applicant. Each panel normally includes two community representatives. Online forms for the community representative opportunity are available.

As an ongoing part of our research program, junior investigators in cancer research can apply to observe panel meetings. Based on selections through a nomination process, junior investigators are offered an award to travel to Toronto and observe a grant panel. It provides an “inside look” at the peer-review process in order to help structure their own grant proposals in the future. Eligible participants are within the first year of their academic appointment who have not yet been awarded a research grant by a major Canadian granting agency.

(b) Reviewer reports

The reviewer reports form the basis for discussion at the meeting of the panels and contribute to the ranking of the applications. Reviewers are free to comment on any aspect of the proposal; they are asked to provide details on what they consider to be the strengths and weaknesses of the application. Panel members are also invited to comment on problems they have identified and on possible modifications. Other aspects relating to policies may also be discussed. Reviewer reports are made available to each member of the panel, except those with a conflict of interest.

A Scientific Officer is responsible for recording salient points raised in the discussion of each application. These comments, as well as the reviewer reports (minus the identity of the reviewers), are provided to applicants as the basis of a constructive critique of the proposal. Applicants are encouraged to use these comments to their best advantage.

(c) Rating and ranking of applications

In evaluating each application, every panel member is required to decide whether the work is likely to have an impact on cancer incidence, mortality, or the quality of life of Canadians living with and beyond cancer. In scoring the application, the Panel members use the following scale (revised May 2014). Additional scales may be used depending on the competition.

Score Description Priority

for funding
4.8 - 5.0

• Exceptional research with extremely significant and novel aims

• Leading edge nationally and internationally

• Addresses extremely important questions, challenges existing paradigms and will substantially improve our understanding of cancer

• Extremely likely that all objectives will be met

• No weaknesses

Highest
4.5 - 4.7

• Outstanding research with very significant and novel aims

• Nationally and internationally competitive

• Addresses essential questions and will have a major impact on our understanding of cancer

• Very likely that all objectives will be met

• Virtually no weaknesses

Very high
4.2 - 4.4

• Excellent research with significant and novel aims

• Nationally competitive and potentially internationally relevant

• Will have a significant impact on our current knowledge of cancer

• Somewhat likely that all objectives will be met

• At least one minor weakness

High
3.9 - 4.1

• Very good research with important and novel aims

• Potentially nationally competitive

• Potential to contribute considerably to our knowledge of cancer

• Very good likelihood that most objectives will be met

• Some minor weaknesses that can be addressed during the term of the grant

Medium-high
3.6 - 3.8

• Good research with important aims

• Potentially nationally relevant

• Potential to improve our knowledge of cancer

• Good likelihood that most objectives will be met

• At least one moderate weakness

Medium-low
3.3 - 3.5

• Research with low potential to yield important results

• Numerous moderate weakness

Low 
3.0 - 3.2

• Research with very low potential to yield important results

• At least one major weakness

Lowest
Below 3.0

• Research in need of further development before being competitive

• Numerous major weaknesses

None
Unscored

The application was triaged by the panel and not discussed. The weaknesses of the proposed research far outweigh the strengths and therefore there is a low expectation of success.

None

The objective is to rank applications so that the most meritorious will have the highest chance of being funded. Only those applications scoring > 3.0 will be considered for funding.

Additional scoring criteria may be used to evaluate areas of importance for a specific grant program. Please see the program description page for information on any additional scoring criteria.

(d) Criteria for relevance and impact

The Mission of the Canadian Cancer Society is "the eradication of cancer and the enhancement of the quality of life of people living with cancer". All applicants are asked to thoroughly elaborate the significance and potential impact of their work with respect to the mission of the Canadian Cancer Society. Cancer relevance is taken into account when applications are rated by grant reviewers.

(e) Criteria for scientific merit

In addition to evaluating the scientific merit of a proposal, reviewers consider the possible relevance of a scientific project to the cancer problem, the track record of the applicant and the research environment. All of these factors contribute to the assignment of a numerical score by a reviewer. Some factors that may affect the ratings given by the reviewers are as follows:

  • are the proposed methods suited to the stated objective
  • is the project likely to produce novel or useful information
  • do the investigators clearly outline the significance of the results that might be obtained
  • is the description of the approach clear enough to permit adequate evaluation
  • do the investigators appear to be familiar with recent pertinent literature
  • has the overall design of the study been carefully enough thought out
  • are the stated objectives realistic
  • do the hypotheses rest on sufficient evidence and are they clearly stated and are they testable
  • have the statistical aspects of the approach been given sufficient consideration
  • program-specific criteria may be included, see relevant program description page

4. Advisory Council review

The third step in the review process is the report from the panel Chairs to the Advisory Council on Research (ACOR). ACOR is composed of experienced scientific leaders who represent a broad range of research areas. This council assesses the input from the review panels and makes recommendations for funding.

The arithmetic mean is determined for each application’s ratings, then the applications are rank-ordered within a panel. On behalf of the grants panels, Chair(s) meet with the Advisory Council on Research to present their panel’s recommendations regarding “cut-off” points for funding. Since all applications which are scored > 3.0 will in principle be considered for funding, the role of Advisory Council on Research is to determine where a cut-off should be made, if there are not sufficient resources to fund all grants that score above 3.0. 

The collective scientific opinions of the grants panels are respected by Advisory Council on Research and the only modifications usually made to the recommendations of the grants panels involve the setting of the specific funding cut-off levels based on budgetary predictions.

5. Final approval

The recommendations of Advisory Council on Research, together with a statement of the financial implications, are considered by the President and CEO for final approval to ensure expenditures are within the Board approved budget.

Last modified on: April 8, 2016