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Step by Step: American Cancer Society Research Grant Funding

Each year, the American Cancer Society's Extramural Discovery Science (EDS) team receives more than a 1000 grant applications, but funding is available for less than half of that number — so how does the ACS determine which studies to support?

It’s an extensive process led by renowned medical professionals, research scholars and stakeholders volunteering precious time.

ACS grantees have achieved innumerable breakthroughs, with 49 Nobel Prize winners funded to date as prove, that we maximize every donor dollar to help save lives from cancer.

Step 1: Researchers Submit Grant Applications to the American Cancer Society (ACS)

Most ACS support goes to researchers that include:

  • Post-doctoral fellows (researchers with graduate degrees who are training in another scientist’s lab)
  • Medical doctors at the faulty level who are being mentored to become cancer researchers
  • Early-career scientists who are embarking on an independent research career

Applicants must detail:

  • Their education, training and experience
  • Proposed research/methodology
  • Their project's implications for
    prevention, diagnosis, and/or treatment 
  • The institution’s ability to support the project, including equipment and space.


research funding infographic



Step 2: Applications are Assigned to Peer Review Committees

Scientific Directors of EDS research programs assign each application to a Peer Review Committee based on the field of study.

Each committee includes 12 to 25 members, many are researchers and  clinician scientists, some may be health professionals, and 1 or 2 are stakeholders – laypeople with a personal interest in cancer.

Step 3: Peer Reviewers Analyze and Rank Applications

Each application is independently analyzed and ranked by 2 peer reviewers. (A third reviewer is added to resolve any disagreements.)

Applications that do not receive at least 1 initial outstanding score are triaged.

The whole Peer Review Committee participates in a review session to discuss each application and its merit. Using proposalCentral, an online grant management system, committee members anonymously vote to indicate each application’s funding priority.

Proposal Central generates mean scores and puts applications in rank order by grant mechanism.  They identify all grant applications they believe the Council should approve for funding.

EDS staff sends these critiques to the applicants, allowing them to revise their applications based on the feedback to resubmit to the ACS or to another donor.

Step 4: Committees Meet to Make Funding Recommendations

Committee members participate in a review session to further evaluate each application and to reach a consensus about its merit. Each application is then given a score to indicate funding priority. Committees also identify all grants they believe should be approved for funding.

Step 5: Council for Extramural Grants Awards Funding

The Council for Extramural Grants reviews the recommendations of all Peer Review Committees and makes the final determination in awarding grants and allocating funds. All committee members have previously served as peer reviewers.

ACS sends award letters to applicants whose research projects have been approved for funding.

During their grant term, grantees are required to fill out annual progress reports, including the funds that have been used and any results they’ve published. 

Step 6: Approved, but Unfunded Grants Tagged “Pay-If”

Applicants whose research projects have been tagged as “Pay-Ifs” also receive notices. These applications were ranked highly by the Peer Review Committee, and the Council also approved their scientific value. However, due to the high volume of high-quality submissions, the Council didn’t have the available funds to pay the grant.

For “Pay-If,” Research projects, the ACS seeks other donors from independent 3rd parties.

If funds are found, the projects will be funded and announced.

This graphic originally appeared in the Fall-Winter 2013 Edition of Triumph magazine, published by Pace Communications and the American Cancer Society. Reprinted with permission.