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


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A New Leader for SWOG Lung Cancer Research

Nov. 3, 2015 - Lung cancer research and treatment is having its moment in the sun, with the approval of effective agents like nivolumab and pembrolizumab, not to mention some complementary/companion diagnostic testing now available for use. I am happy to inform you SWOG lung research is having its moment, too.

Dr. David Gandara, director of the thoracic oncology program at UC-Davis, is stepping down as chair of SWOG's lung committee. Dr. Gandara is a "victim" of the term limits we promised the NCI we would implement and enforce for committee chairs. Dr. Gandara is our longest running leader, having held his position since 1997. He has also proven to be of our best chairs, ratcheting up rigor, innovation, and productivity in the lung committee. He has generously volunteered to stay on with SWOG, and we are exploring the right senior advisory role that will allow us to continue to use his expertise and "can-do/will-do" attitude towards our group.

I could not be more pleased to announce we have chosen a more than able successor. Dr. Karen Kelly, also of UC-Davis and associate director of clinical research, will serve as lung chair effective January 1, 2016. Dr. Kelly is known to many of you. She's been a member of SWOG, and the lung committee, since 1992. Colleagues know her as a positive and prolific force. With SWOG, Dr. Kelly has led nine national trials and has published more than 100 journal articles. She leads medical oncology on the lung committee, and serves on the Board of Governors.

Outside of SWOG, Dr. Kelly has a distinguished track record as a presenter, mentor, grant reviewer, and journal editor. In 2012, she was named as a Fellow of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (FASCO), and she received an endowed chair in cancer clinical research at UC-Davis.

Dr. Kelly takes the reins at an exciting time in lung cancer research. In just the last two years, the NCI has launched multiple precision medicine trials -- and lung cancer is included in all three of the first efforts. The FDA has approved the important new lung cancer immune therapies discussed previously; these are now garnering national headlines and gracing prime time television ads. And the American Lung Association has doubled its research funding -- and is now lobbying Congress to increase federal funding for lung cancer research to $300 million by 2020.

During the interview process, Dr. Kelly embraced this dynamic, fast-paced research environment, and she vowed to improve communication, review and enforce timelines, and make other infrastructure changes to ensure that trials are activated and executed quickly. She shares SWOG's goal of getting exciting new treatments into the research pipeline rapidly to ensure they get to patients rapidly.

Dr. Kelly promises to work collaboratively in and outside of SWOG. She cites as a model our landmark Lung-MAP trial -- the brainchild of Dr. Gandara and others and backed by the NCI, the Friends of Cancer Research, and the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health. Also expect a focus on career development. Dr. Kelly is a champion of early career physicians and scientists, reviewing fellowship grant applications for SWOG and IASLC, and mentoring 19 fellows and junior faculty in California, Kansas, and Colorado since 1996.

Welcome, Dr. Kelly, and thank you for stepping up to serve. I am so proud to tell you we had nine (9!) unbelievably qualified and dedicated individuals throw their hats into the ring. I thank Dr. Harry Erba, leukemia committee chair, for leading that search committee so capably, along with the help of my chief of staff, Nathan Eriksen, and many others. Finally, thanks to Dr. Gandara, for helping to create the exhilarating atmosphere for SWOG lung cancer research that we find ourselves in.

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