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The Front Line: Charles D. Blanke, MD, SWOG Chair
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Making History Together in the NCTN

September 22, 2017 - Earlier this week in Chicago, the leadership teams from every NCTN group came together to talk opportunities and challenges for our cancer trials. I’m not totally double-dipping. Yes, I mentioned the meeting in a previous Front Line, but that was in the context of a travel piece. Now you get the actual details. Spoiler non-alert: You won’t get any juicy scientific scoop here. We talked a lot about provocative questions in cancer treatment and prevention, and how we might all work together to answer them. We’ll be further developing those big ideas, and reporting them both in the NCTN operations grant, and to you, in the near future.

I will report that the meeting was chock full of energy and ideas. Yes, the NCTN group chairs hold regular calls and have met face-to-face several times. Yes, we have held SWOG retreats with all our committee chairs. But this time, group chairs, treatment and advocacy committee chairs, stats leaders, and senior administrators were pulled together from all NCTN groups for brainstorming, planning, and networking.

Being in this big group was gratifying. In the age of precision medicine, we need to band together so we can screen large numbers of patients for genetic and other molecular targets. We also have to work together on tissue banking, CIRB issues, and other functions critical to our cancer trials. The value of the NCTN is our vast network; despite the benefit of having individual committees and protocols, we should do a significant chunk of operating and scientific planning as one.

At the retreat, we broke into three groups. One group discussed retaining and engaging young investigators. Another talked operational efficiency and effectiveness, based on an outline supplied by our operations leader, Dana Sparks. And the last one tossed around those provocative scientific questions. Findings from each group were brought back for everyone to comment upon, and tweak.

The groups did talk about their own organizational and scientific accomplishments. Outside of those, I was pleased to see SWOG is well-recognized for its young investigator training, in-depth involvement of the patient and patient advocate at all levels of trial development, and digital communications. The SWOG team made some new connections and will be working even more closely and more specifically with the other groups on issues pertaining to these areas in the immediate future.

It was wonderful to hear many nice tributes to Dr. Bob Comis, former co-chair of ECOG-ACRIN. I was also thrilled to reconnect with so many colleagues, like Dr. Wally Curran. Finally, it was a pleasure to see an old friend and new network co-chair in action – Dr. Peter O’Dwyer, Dr. Comis’ successor. Peter was, as always, full of smart observations and good questions. Dr. Monica Bertagnolli, head of the Alliance and ASCO president-elect, did a wonderful job as our organizer and master of ceremonies. It might have been the biggest cat-herding expedition in oncology history.

This meeting should become a regular event. I am very much looking forward to meetings to come, as well as what emerges from the meeting we just had.

The deadline is fast approaching for submission of abstracts for the ASCO Genitourinary Cancers Symposium. Please send draft abstracts to SWOG Publications Manager Pat Arlauskas at arlauskp@ohsu.edu for pre-processing in compliance with SWOG, NIH, and industry policy/guidelines no later than October 3.

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