Last week, I wrote about the science that underlies our cancer clinical trials. This week, I want to focus on the art. People and process have just as much impact as assays and endpoints.

SWOG has several strengths when it comes to the art of the cancer trial. These strengths became really clear as our NCTN Operations Center grant application draft slowly comes together. Here they are, as I see them:

Junior investigators: SWOG places a huge emphasis on supporting cancer researchers early in their careers. Over the years, often with the support of The Hope Foundation, we've created a host of education, training, and mentoring options. These include our Integrated Translational Science Center workshops, Young Investigator Training Course, Coltman Fellowship, and our new Leadership Academy, an intensive mentoring program that we plan to adapt and offer to the entire NCTN.

Patient advocacy: We'll bring on a new palliative and end-of-life care advocate in early 2018, which will bring the number of SWOG advocates to 20. That's the largest group in the NCTN. We also have the most experienced group, with advocacy executives, management consultants, nurse educators, and a patient navigator on the roster. Just like committee chairs, advocates have formal training, and undergo performance evaluations. They participate in our triage calls, scoring trials presented for executive review. We plan to make our advocate pool even bigger by bringing on community (versus "research”) advocates, and parlaying our expertise to lead a network-wide collaboration.

Digital communications: Connecting with members and the public nowadays frequently happens online. Our website, social media platforms, webinars and other Internet-based tools and technologies are our lifeline to our research teams and to the public we serve. In the last few years, we've ramped up our digital efforts with a major web redesign and a long-term commitment to building our following on Twitter and Facebook, with the aim of using social media to promote clinical trials broadly, and SWOG trials specifically. We are also redesigning our email blasts – look for a new Front Line – and investigating new ways to survey stakeholders online.

Training: We've amassed a stunning array of training options for our members – annual workshops for NCORP members, the clinical trials training course for CRAs, a training course for study chairs, and a raft of study-specific sessions. Through our SWOG Latin America Initiative, we've trained hundreds of cancer researchers in Mexico, Columbia, and Peru. Thanks to Hope, we've run grant writing workshops and special symposia at group meetings on topics ranging from patient-reported outcomes to cultural competency. Four years ago, we invested in an online learning management system that organizes and tracks our training sessions.

Preparing the draft of the grant application made me realize how strong our group really is. Partly because of our science, and in a major way because of what I have loosely termed our art.

Happiest holidays, everyone. We'll take a break next week and be back in January with the 2017 Impact Report! Thanks for a great year.

CRAs can apply for travel assistance to the April group meeting from The Hope Foundation https://tinyurl.com/CRA-Nurse. Apply by the Jan. 15, 2018 deadline. For questions, contact morgan@thehopefoundation.

Abstracts for ASCO 2018 are being accepted now. The ASCO deadline for submission is Feb. 13, 2018 at 11:59 pm EST. Please submit your abstracts to SWOG for processing and approvals to chof/ng/fjbt/qbg/bet by Jan. 30, 2018.