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The Front Line
The Front Line: Charles D. Blanke, MD, SWOG Chair


SWOG's Spring 2015 Group Meeting: Going Global

May 12, 2015 - Another successful SWOG live Group Meeting has come and gone, and I would love to to share a few highlights. Given the quantity of work packed into three intensive days (and nights!) at our Group Meetings, this will by necessity only be a subset of important outcomes and accomplishments.

Our VA Working Group session in San Francisco was extremely upbeat, energized by the great progress that has been made on re-engaging with our nation's Veterans' Affairs Medical Centers. As you know, a consortium of VAs known as MAVERIC joined SWOG late last year, and they have been working hard to get Lung-MAP open soon. To ease the entry (or reentry) of other VAs into the Group, we've developed our SWOG/Hope Foundation VA Integration Awards -- up to six awards of $25,000 each to support startup costs for VAs to conduct NCTN research and/or become SWOG members. We finalized the RFA for this award in San Francisco and will be issuing it very soon (watch this space). We also learned that VAs will soon be able to use the NCI's Central Institutional Review Board for monitoring the SWOG clinical trials they open, we have a new information security agreement template we hope to be able to use across numerous VAs, and a renewal of the VA/NCI cooperation agreement is in the works. All of these items are great news for SWOG, for VA medical centers looking to offer the best cancer clinical trials to their patients, and for veterans being treated for cancer.

The theme of Friday's General Plenary was "Going Global." While you know I hate to toot my own horn (ha!), I was happy to show slides of my February trip to Tanzania and our Kilimanjaro Climb for Cancer Clinical Trials. The best photo was a group of climbers at the summit, holding the banner with 200,000 sets of initials from SWOG trial participants. I also was proud to announce the recipients of several of our SWOG/Hope Foundation juried research support awards. This year's Charles A. Coltman, Jr., Fellowships went to Sarah Goldberg, of the Yale Cancer Center, Joseph Unger, of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center, and Siwen Hu-Lieskovan, of UCLA. Dr. Goldberg also received the first SWOG Trial Support, or STrS, award, which will provide critical bridge funding for the S1403 lung cancer trial now in protocol development. In addition to the first STrS Award, I also had the honor of announcing the first recipients of our SWOG Early Exploration and Development (SEED) Fund awards. One went to Heather Greenlee, of Columbia University, and another went to Christopher Lieu, of University of Colorado, and Scott Kopetz, of MD Anderson. The final award announced was the latest SWOG/Hope Impact Award, which went to PI Marc Loriaux and Co-PI Stephen Spurgeon, both of Oregon Health & Science University.

The Chairs of our Lymphoma and Melanoma Committees gave Best of SWOG updates on the work in their disease areas, and we got a look at the roadmap our new Cancer Care Delivery program will be using to chart future navigation. Recordings of these talks will be posted soon to the SWOG website, as will the General Plenary keynote talks by Yuri Quintana, a pioneer in the creation of tools and platforms to support international collaboration in cancer research, and by the Scientific Director of the NCI's Center for Global Health Thomas Gross. Dr. Gross outlined for us the work done thus far to establish a Latin American Cancer Research Network (LA CRN), an undertaking in which SWOG will play an advisory role (again, watch this space for details).

Both Dr. Gross and Dr. Quintana joined a Latin America Leadership Retreat Thursday evening, along with visiting leaders from the National Cancer Institutes of Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, and Peru, where significant progress was made on the next steps in the establishment of the LA CRN.

One additional "going global" step -- I had the pleasure of announcing the formation of an International SWOG Working Group led by Executive Officer Manuel Valdivieso, which will guide the Group's international strategy and help refine policies for participation in SWOG trials by sites outside of the United States.

Vice-Chair for Translational Medicine (TM) Lee Ellis held his first group meeting get-together with SWOG TM Chairs, along with investigators from Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, the Jackson Laboratories, and the SWOG Biorepository. This followed an outstanding Translational Medicine Plenary session that featured several practical presentations on TM and "bucket trials" (e.g., NCI's MATCH trial), followed by a talk on the use of hyperbaric oxygen (HBO) to enhance the effectiveness of hematopoietic stem cell transplants and a talk on the use of proteomics in cancer clinical trials.

Our recently expanded Early Therapeutics and Rare Cancers Committee reviewed several new trial concepts addressing rare cancers, and introduced Victor Villalobos of the University of Colorado as the new SWOG/Hope Rare Cancers Fellow.

The Saturday Board of Governors meeting was brief but productive. Here are a few notable items from the BOG agenda:

  • The Board approved the membership application of another VA Medical Center -- this one the Kansas City VAMC, which was formerly affiliated with SWOG under the University of Kansas.
  • We reported to the Board that our initial analysis of the Year 2 award for SWOG's NCTN grant leads us to expect no further cuts this year to SWOG programs.
  • SWOG Statistician Michael LeBlanc announced that Dr. Antje Hoering has been named as the new CEO of Cancer Research And Biostatistics, or CRAB, one of the home bases for SWOG's Statistics and Data Management Center.
  • The Board approved an update to SWOG Publications Policy that prohibits individual institutions from publishing subsets of data from a SWOG clinical trial before the definitive article reporting that trial's results is published.

Our Saturday session for NCORP PIs was well attended. It was a chance for NCI and SWOG leaders to present on and field questions about Cancer Care Delivery Research and other topics, such as the grant progress reports NCORP sites will soon need to file with the NCI.

Once again, given the density of sessions, any recap of a SWOG semiannual group meeting just scratches the surface, but recordings of Plenary I, Plenary II, and the Oishi Symposium will be posted soon to the SWOG website. If you couldn't make it in person, this is a great opportunity to review some highly informative and pertinent presentations. Thanks to all who attended!


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