In 2011 the National Cancer Institute (NCI) established the Provocative Questions (PQ) Initiative. The goal of this program is to support research projects designed to use sound and innovative research strategies to solve specific problems and paradoxes in cancer research identified by the NCI as "Provocative Questions" (PQs). The PQs are not intended to represent the full range of NCI's priorities in cancer research. Rather, they are meant to challenge cancer researchers to think about and elucidate specific problems in key areas of cancer research that are deemed important but have not received sufficient attention. Some of these PQs stem from intriguing but older, neglected observations that have never been adequately explored. Other PQs are built on more recent findings that are perplexing or paradoxical, revealing important gaps in current knowledge. Finally, some PQs reflect problems that traditionally have been thought to be intractable but that now may be open to investigations using new strategies and recent technical advances.
Progress in cancer research depends on identifying important outstanding questions in the field and designing appropriate experiments to answer them. The best research questions often illuminate the key issues that underlie a problem, suggest potential approaches to attack the question, and even hint at the promise of the final results. In each year since 2011, the NCI has sponsored workshops with experts from the extramural research communities to identify, articulate, and prioritize particularly compelling, but understudied problems in cancer research to create lists of PQs that are published in Request for Applications (RFA) Funding Opportunity Announcements (FOAs). PQs come from various fields relevant to cancer research, but all are framed to inspire interested scientists to conceive new approaches or feasible solutions.
To date the PQ Initiative has received more than 2,500 new R01 and R21 applications and made over 230 new awards.