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Where is caBIG Going?

As many of you know, changes have been taking place with the Cancer Biomedical Informatics Grid (caBIG) initiative, a large program of the U.S. National Cancer Institute (NCI). I am writing this blog with assurance that the terminology that has been supported for CDISC (and FDA) through the NCI’s Enterprise Vocabulary Services (EVS) is ‘alive and well’ and freely available, as usual. I also want to make an effort to clarify the history and describe what is transpiring with respect to caBIG as I write.


In March 2011, a report by the NCI’s Board of Scientific Advisors, entitled ‘Assessment of the Impact of the NCI CaBIG’, was released. Based upon these findings and recommendations, an Oversight Sub-Committee was formed to further review the caBIG projects and make additional recommendations (Members of this Sub-committee are listed at the end of this blog). Dr. Harold Varmus, the head of NCI, spoke to the Oversight Sub-committee at its initial meeting in June of 2011. His hope is that this Sub-committee serves as a model for program reviews and external advisory groups. Participants in the development of the BSA report (Drs. Stein and Califano) presented their findings to the Sub-committee after which John Czaikoski presented a response from the NCI, including actions they had taken to streamline management and to scale back certain activities that had been identified as having a less than favorable return with respect to NCI resources spent.


This Sub-committee met 1-2 times per month, including one face-to-face meeting in Bethesda, over the past year. We reviewed a number of the caBIG projects, presented by Dr. Ken Buetow and more recently by Dr. George Koumatsoulis (since Dr. Buetow has now moved to ASU), making recommendations to the BSA on each of these. One of the more recent recommendations was to redirect funds from certain caBIG areas into the activities of the Enterprise Vocabulary Services, which had received positive comments in the BSA report. It is hoped that this will improve funding for EVS, although the execution of these recommendations is not controlled by the Sub-committee. More recently, the Sub-committee received a new ‘charge’ and a new name to go along with the new NCI program that will take forward the NCI’s informatics projects. The new name is the National Cancer Advisory Board (NCAB) ad hoc Information Technology Working Group; this group now has several new members and continues to meet and provide recommendations for the NCI informatics program.


In mid-April, Dr. Varmus announced: “the National Cancer Institute is organizing a workshop of recognized leaders in the research and informatics communities to discuss the needs and opportunities that will drive the new National Cancer Informatics Program (NCIP). This workshop will function as a ‘launch meeting’ for the National Cancer Informatics Program (NCIP). Attendees will include basic and clinical scientists, informaticists, managers of core facilities, and representatives of the advocacy community. The goals will be to assess informatics’ needs in the cancer research community, to identify the best ways to meet these needs, and to ensure that relevant data remains available for sharing as we transition into NCIP.”


This one-day meeting was organized into three sections around the topics of genomics, translational science and standards and interoperability. There were ~ 300 individuals listening on the phone. Although the time was pressed for the last session, the theme of standards and interoperability permeated the entire day – every segment. One can listen to the presentations and see videos of this day. All of the video footage and presentations from the meeting are now available at: http://ncip.nci.nih.gov/. The videos are integrated with the presentations, which are displayed on the page in the order that they occurred on the Agenda (the CDISC presentation was last). The new Chief Program Officer at NCIP is Anthony R. Kerlavage, PhD.


Dr. George Koumatsoulis is the Acting head of NCIP. Because this begs to be kept intact and not paraphrased, here is his letter to the community:

I am writing to let you know that, over the next few months, the vision, goals, and activities of the cancer Biomedical Informatics Grid (caBIG) program of the National Cancer Institute (NCI) will be integrated into the Institute’s new National Cancer Informatics Program (NCIP). When this process is complete, caBIG as a separate program will terminate. We will keep you fully informed of our progress as we make the transition, via weekly updates to this mailing list: CABIG_ANNOUNCE@list.nih.gov.

    Speaking for my colleagues at the NCI Center for Biomedical Informatics and Information Technology (CBIIT), I would like to thank you all for your brilliance, dedication, and hard work over the last eight years. Together, we changed the biomedical informatics paradigm and demonstrated that it is possible to create a national federation of interoperable biomedical information systems. While there is still much to do, caBIG helped put the cancer research community on the path to a truly modern informatics environment.

    caBIG may also have changed another, even more difficult paradigm: it is a government program that is being retired at a time when its current model has reached the end of its useful life. This does not mean that the NCI is abandoning biomedical informatics, the successful elements of caBIG, or the community that has always been caBIG’s greatest strength. On the contrary, NCI’s need for innovation in informatics has never been greater, and we intend to continue to support successful elements of the caBIG program (including the use of the caBIG trademark for compatible systems and support service providers) under the aegis of NCIP. At the end of the day, NCIP will embrace both the achievements (especially the caBIG community) and the experience of caBIG, and its establishment will be much more than a ‘rebranding’.

    We will be reorganizing our biomedical informatics programs based on NCI’s vision for informatics in the next decade and the articulated needs of the community. For that reason, I encourage you all to participate in the NCIP, starting with the upcoming biomedical informatics meeting and the working groups that will arise from that meeting. Only by continuing to join together and move forward as a community can we achieve our common goal of developing more effective means to understand, prevent, detect, diagnose, and treat the spectrum of diseases we know as cancer. As the transition moves forward, please feel free to contact me or other CBIIT staff members with any questions.”

George A. Komatsoulis, Ph.D., Director (interim)

Center for Biomedical Informatics and Information Technology (CBIIT), National Cancer Institute


As a member of the NCAB National Cancer Advisory Board (NCAB) ad hoc Information Technology Working Group, please don’t hesitate to provide your thoughts. This group has its work cut out and is enthused about the new direction and related strategy and opportunity.


CDISC is pleased to have been a close collaborator with NCI over the years and looks forward to a strong and continuing relationship. The CDISC terminology continues to be strongly supported through NCI EVS, thanks to Margaret Haber and her team. We just held a face-to-face BRIDG Board meeting at NCI on 21-22 June with representatives from CDISC, NCI, FDA and HL7 as well as our at-large Board members.


Ad hoc Sub-Committee of the BSA (additional members have been added to the new NCAB)

  • Brian Athey, University of Michigan
  • Andrea Califano, Columbia University
  • Robert Comis, Coalition of Cancer Cooperative Groups
  • Paul Fearn, University of Washington
  • Gad Getz, Broad Institute
  • Rebecca Kush, CDISC
  • Daniel Masys, University of Washington (Committee Chair)
  • Lynn Vogel, MD Anderson
  • Jean Wang, UCSD Cancer Center


By Dr. Rebecca Kush

President and CEO of CDISC


Questions and comments are welcome here!