Challenge Grants

Highlights of the program

The Challenge grant program will support cancer research projects across the cancer continuum and across disciplines, with an ultimate goal of solving a problem (i.e. a ‘challenge’) in cancer that will be meaningful to people affected by or at risk of cancer.

Deadline dates

Abstract registrations due
July 28, 2021
Full application due date
September 22, 2021
Results announcement
January 2022
Anticipated funding start date
January 1, 2022
When a deadline falls on weekend or holiday, the next business day will be considered the deadline date.


The Canadian Cancer Society (CCS) is proud to launch a new funding program in support of cancer research across Canada. We recognize that the past year has presented exceptional challenges for everyone. It has also presented CCS Research with an opportunity to review and refresh our purpose through the development of a new research strategy that is still taking shape. While we finalize our direction forward, we want to ensure that we continue to support the recovery of the Canadian cancer research ecosystem.

We do not yet know if Challenge grants will be offered on a regular basis, or whether our established programs - Innovation, Innovation to Impact, and Impact grants - will resume 'as usual'. In pursuit of Inclusive Excellence, and in alignment with our developing research strategy, we are being thoughtful about how these programs might be revised and refined to fit our evolving mandate. We also need to build resilience into our programs following the unexpected impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. We will provide clarity as soon as we have more information.

Program description

The Challenge grant program will support cancer research projects across the cancer continuum and across disciplines, with an ultimate goal of solving a problem (i.e. a ‘challenge’) in cancer that will be meaningful to people affected by or at risk of cancer. Whether culminating in outcomes that have immediate impact (such as a tool, therapeutic, program, policy, or practice change), or those that are more long term in scope (such as an important finding relevant to the biology or etiology of cancer that could eventually be applied to improve outcomes), applicants must clearly articulate the anticipated contribution of their proposed project towards solving the identified challenge, as well as an estimated timeline for success.

Preliminary data/supporting evidence is required, and applicants must articulate how the funds provided will pave the way towards a solution to the challenge identified, both over the term of the grant, as well as next steps towards impact should the project aims be achieved. Applicants will describe how the knowledge generated through these grants will be shared and/or mobilized (with a view to next steps), with strategies beyond publications and presentations strongly encouraged (e.g. through engagement of clinicians and other practitioners or end-users early on to ensure utility).Applicants will also be required to incorporate sex, gender, and other identity factors (e.g. race, ethnicity) and their intersectionality into the research design, methods, analysis, interpretation, and dissemination of findings/outcomes wherever relevant.

Applications from the four pillars of health research (i.e. biomedical; clinical; health services; and social, cultural, environmental and population health) are encouraged, and diversity across career stage, geography, gender and other dimensions of diversity will be a component of the evaluation process. Applications will be rated on inclusive research excellence and relevance to cancer – particularly the likelihood that a project will (eventually) lead to a solution for a relevant problem in cancer.

CCS is committed to equity, diversity and inclusivity and strives to promote inclusive excellence in its research programs. We welcome eligible applicants of diverse backgrounds to apply for our funding opportunities.

Applications focused on breast cancer and prostate cancer are encouraged.


Funds available

Funding will be provided to support the direct costs of research, including supplies, eligible salaries, and equipment associated with the proposed work. Equipment requests cannot exceed 15% of the requested budget. Indirect costs are not eligible. Please consult our grant expense policies when creating your budget.

Total budget *
Approximately $15.75M
3-year period
up to $150K per year
15% budget
Application score
> 3.5
* Additional partners or access to additional funds may increase this number.

Additional information

Seven peer review committees will be assembled to review the full applications. Applicants will be asked to select 1st and 2nd choices for desired panels as part of the abstract registration and application process, however CCS reserves the right to assign an application to whichever panel possesses the necessary expertise to review the proposal.

The peer review committees will be composed of diverse (gender, geography, career stage, race) scientists with expertise relevant to the submitted applications, and patient/survivor/caregiver reviewers who will evaluate the relevance of the applications to cancer (see review criteria below for more information).

*Updated August 23, 2021*

Panel Description CSO Codes
C1: Mechanisms of risk, initiation, and progression Research focused on understanding mechanisms of cancer risk, initiation and spread 1.1-1.5, 2.1-2.4, 3.6
C2: Molecular biomarkers Research focused on identifying and testing cancer-related biomarkers (diagnostic, prognostic, predictive), including clinical testing/application 4.1-4.4
C3: Imaging & Technology Research aimed at developing new or improving imaging modalities and/or other technologies (e.g. artificial intelligence, machine learning, nanotechnologies, robotics, wearable technologies, etc.), including clinical testing/application, for improved detection, prognosis, or monitoring of cancer 4.1-4.4
C4a: Therapeutics Research aimed at identifying and developing new therapeutic approaches (including re-purposing and combination therapies) for preventing and/or treating cancer (e.g. therapeutics, radiotherapy, and surgery) - from discovery to clinical testing. *Not including immunologically directed therapies (see 4b).  3.3, 5.1-5.7
C4b: Immunotherapy  Research aimed at identifying and developing new immunologically directed therapeutic approaches (including re-purposing and combination therapies) for prevention and/or treating cancer (e.g. vaccines, antibodies, antibiotics, theranostics or other biologics) - from discovery to clinical testing. 3.4, 5.1-5.7
C6: Prevention & Supportive Care
Research focused on (primary) prevention (behavioural and other interventions), patient centred outcomes related to cancer, the psychosocial and physical needs of people affected by cancer, as well as end-of-life and palliative care research 3.1, 3.2, 3.5, 6.1, 6.6, 6.9
C7: Health Services & Policy
Research that aims to improve health service delivery related to cancer (including prevention of cancer), such as quality, efficiency, cost effectiveness, equitable access, improving data collection and analysis, screening, epidemiology, surveillance and policy research
6.2-6.5, 6.7
Abstract registration is mandatory and will help to inform the composition of the review panels. A maximum of one application per Principal Investigator is permitted in this competition (applicants may be listed as Co-PIs on multiple applications).

Abstract registration includes:
1. Applicant details (Principal Investigator (PI), Co-PIs, Co-Applicants, Additional Authors, Patients/Survivors/Caregivers, Knowledge Users etc.)
2. Scientific abstract (and non-confidential abstract)
3. Keywords
4. Panel recommendation
5. Suggested reviewers
6. Research tracking information

Please consult the abstract registration guide for additional details. Substantive changes that significantly alter the overall goals and aims of the proposal relative to the Abstract Registration are not permitted.

When preparing the full application, the following is required:

  1. Public summary
  2. A statement that clearly articulates the challenge in cancer to be addressed (or partially addressed) by this grant. The progress to be made during the course of this grant, as well as next steps should the project be successful in achieving its aims should be described (including an estimated time frame to impact), as well as how this will be meaningful to people affected by or at risk of cancer.
  3. A scientific abstract (and non-confidential abstract)
  4. A detailed scientific proposal (about 5 pages of single-spaced text) including overall goal and aims of the project, supporting evidence, experimental design, methods, and analysis (including alternative approaches). An additional 2 pages of figures/tables/charts and associated legends are permitted.
  5. Knowledge translation/mobilization activities (beyond publication/presentations strongly encouraged).
  6. Considerations regarding sex and/or gender and/or dimensions of diversity and their intersectionalities
  7. Details of the team members including which member(s) of the research team will be responsible for which aspect of the project and a rationale for their inclusion in the project are required, and a description of the research environment where the work will take place. Consideration of equity, diversity and inclusion principles in the composition of research team must be evident.
  8. A detailed budget and justification providing rationale for the requested consumables, personnel, and equipment associated with the research project. Details must include the number of personnel required to complete the work, a description of their experience and/or education level, and their time commitment to the project. Researchers will also be requested to indicate which provinces will receive funds from the project.

The review criteria for the full application will include four main assessment categories: Research Strategy, Relevance, Team, and Environment.

Research strategy (~50%)

  • scientific merit and convincing rationale that considers critical review and analysis of preliminary data and/or published literature
  • feasibility of the project, including identification of potential problems and how they will be addressed, including alternative approaches
  • appropriate positioning of the aims to generate meaningful data/information that will support a solution to the challenge identified
  • sex, gender, and other identity factors (e.g. race, ethnicity) and their intersectionalities appropriately considered in the research design, methods, analysis, interpretation, and dissemination of findings/outcomes
  • appropriateness of the term and amount of support requested

Relevance (~25%)

  • clearly identified challenge to cancer and appropriate steps to address the challenge, both during and post-grant are well articulated
  • potential of the project to generate outcomes that will (ultimately) be meaningful to people affected by or at risk of cancer
  • knowledge translation/mobilization activities align well with grant focus and will support resolving the identified challenge

Team (~15%)

  • the qualifications and appropriate expertise of the investigator(s) and other team members (including collaborators), particularly as it relates to the potential for (eventual) resolution of the identified challenge (note that career stage of investigator(s) will be taken into consideration, including any career interruptions)
  • appropriate team members are in place to ensure that findings will be relevant to people affected by or at risk of cancer
  • consideration of equity, diversity and inclusion principles in team composition and recruitment processes, and training and development opportunities

Environment (10%)

  • quality of the research environment in which the work will take place (is there appropriate equipment, mentorship, etc. available to support success, taking into consideration contributions of collaborators as required)
It is understood that applications may also be made to other agencies to provide support for grants/programs similar to those submitted to CCS. For this competition, duplicate applications submitted to CCS and other agencies will be accepted, but budgetary overlap will not be permitted at the funding stage. CCS will also allow an eligible proposal with a budget greater than that available from this competition. In such a case, CCS’s funding will be contingent upon the acquisition of funds for the entire project.

For applicants applying to the Atlantic Cancer Research competition, applications will be accepted to the Challenge grant program as well. In the event that both applications are funded, Atlantic Cancer Research grants will be topped up to the amount awarded through the Challenge grant program (and projects are expected to be expanded in scope as appropriate).

How to apply

Review eligibility and requirements

Consult CCS eligibility and requirements. Review CCS requirements for Principal Investigators, their teams, and Host Institutions. 

Review application guide
Download our application guide for step-by-step instructions on how to apply for this grant as well as other important information that you need to know.
Click here to apply for this funding opportunity.