The BIG Cat Initiative in Africa

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Published: 9 Jan 2024
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Dr Frédéric Biemar - Senior Director, Global Affairs, AACR

Dr Frédéric Biemar speaks to ecancer about the BIG Cat initiative in Africa.

During the discussion, he highlights the programme's achievements in supporting research in Africa and shares their future plans.

Dr Biemar also talks about the new funding programs launched by BIG Cat and AACR and the positive impact they could have on research in the region.

The BIG Cat Initiative in Africa

Dr Frédéric Biemar - Senior Director, Global Affairs, AACR

What work have you been doing with BIG Cat?

BIG Cat is an initiative that existed for several years before the AACR was involved. It’s a programme that AORTIC has conceptualised; it was funded by the US National Cancer Institute for a few years. There have been three cohorts and the concept is really simple: it’s to give seed money, up to US$50,000, to researchers in Africa for research conducted in Africa. It’s really important that the research stays here and is conducted by folks here. After a small break we found new funding, and we’ve restarted this collaboration with AORTIC and the National Cancer Institute still. And the AACR, which has a really long history of giving out grants and managing grants in the US and abroad, has been approached to help with that. So we’re providing the grant management side of those grants.

We’ve now given four grants last year, another four this year. They are all here at AORTIC, and there’s another call with another four grantees that are going to be announced next year in May. And we hope to sustain this programme, it’s very important. It allows scientists here to really initiate a programme or a project without necessarily having any kind of preliminary data. For larger grants, for grants that will provide more monies, you will need to show a proof of concept. This type of money will help you doing just that, so we see that as a launching pad, really, for bigger projects, for future grants that they can secure through other sources.

What work have you been doing with BIG Cat?

So in fact, this programme really inspired folks back in the US, and our leadership, to launch a very similar programme that is funded by the AACR in Latin America. And we recognise the need for funding everywhere, really. I’ve never met a scientist who said that they didn’t need more funding. But specifically in low- and middle-income countries it’s incredibly difficult to do research in addition to oftentimes your clinic duties and that sort of things, and to have the dedicated time. So hopefully those types of grants can help with that. And there’s more need, so if we find the right support we can easily develop new initiatives and grants for mid-career scientists or more dedicated to specific areas of research. The BIG Cat is very broad, you can do research in pretty much anything and qualify for the grant.