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The Front Line


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

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ASCO 2017 Review: 98% on Rotten Tomatoes

June 9, 2017 - The ASCO annual meeting is like a blockbuster movie premier film fest. The stars come out, the energy is high, and there are some terrific scenes up front. Then the reviews come in. Here’s mine.

One performer appearing a number of times? SWOG! Members made 32 ASCO presentations – the highest number in nearly a decade. Of those 32 abstracts, 20 were on SWOG-led studies. SWOG trials, and our members, were featured in the plenary session, in oral presentations, and in 25 poster and poster discussion sessions.

Dr. Brian Druker, director of the Knight Cancer Institute here at Oregon Health & Science University and a member of SWOG’s leukemia committee, was honored with ASCO’s 2017 Science of Oncology Award. Dr. Druker was recognized for his work developing imatinib for chronic myeloid leukemia, and pioneering the concept of personalized oncology. SWOG is a proud part of the imatinib story, further testing this drug and treatment paradigm on the Phase III S0033 trial in patients with advanced gastrointestinal stromal tumors. Dr. Druker’s lecture captivated his giant audience, and led to more than one not-so-dry eye.

Chicago held these other SWOG and non-SWOG highlights for me and others:

  • SWOG biostatistician Dr. Joe Unger of Fred Hutch made a giant splash with his poster discussion about years of life gained from SWOG trials. Americans with cancer gained 3.34 million years thanks to just 23 of our Phase III studies. Get all the details from our press release. This research was highlighted in Reuters Health, Medscape, and HealthDay News, and it earned a tweet from NCI Director Dr. Doug Lowy. The NCI is interested in getting similar statistics from other groups in our National Clinical Trials Network (NCTN), and we’re asking group chairs now if they want to take part in a large-scale cooperative analysis.

  • The talk of the meeting was the patient-reported outcomes study presented at the plenary by Dr. Ethan Basch, formerly of Memorial Sloan Kettering and now at the Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center in North Carolina. This randomized clinical trial of 766 patients shows that a simple intervention ? a web-based tool that allows patients to report real-time symptoms ? can improve survival by a median of five months. That’s the kind of benefit you hope to see using new, targeted cancer drugs. It’s also a reminder of the power of getting patients involved in their own care.

  • SWOG was a proud part of the IDEA collaboration, which had a starring role at the plenary. IDEA is an analysis of six global GI oncology trials enrolling more than 12,800 patients. After a review of all six studies, researchers found that three months of combination chemotherapy was essentially as effective as six months in post-surgery patients with low-risk, lymph node-positive colon cancer. The research will likely change practice – and save thousands of people from the neurotoxic effects of large-bowel chemotherapy. Dr. Qian Shi of Mayo Clinic presented the primary findings, and SWOG investigator Dr. Cathy Eng of M.D. Anderson put them into perspective for the thrilled audience.

If you want to see an overview of SWOG studies at ASCO, see our press release. I lied when I gave us a 98% approval rating; It was 100%. But I hate to brag. Kudos to all SWOG members who represented us in Chicago, or simply went to learn new approaches that can improve our clinical trials and patient care.

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