A week ago today, I was in Snowbird, Utah, hiking around Mt. Baldy and Hidden Peak and hearing about how we plan to best support immunotherapy trials at SWOG. We had more than a dozen other SWOG members and National Cancer Institute officials attend the symposium, including several calling in from afar. It was the first-ever retreat for the new immunotherapy research support committee in development.

Like our actual location, the Snowbird conversation was rather high-level. This committee, under our new model, will not primarily conduct its own trials, but, rather support SWOG disease committees that do conduct studies. What should that backing look like? What value will this new committee add? How can the new group help SWOG investigators keep up with developing translational science, identify resources, and build partnerships, so that our immunotherapy trials open and accrue faster? How can we ensure that SWOG is tackling the most relevant scientific questions, in innovative fashion?
Shepherding this retreat and subsequent conversations will fall to the two new committee co-chairs. One is Dr. Ken Grossman of Moffitt Cancer Center. He’s a medical oncologist and melanoma expert who has been involved in over a dozen immunotherapy trials in the past decade, including major studies testing ipilimumab, pembrolizumab, and nivolumab. Ken knows these drugs like few others, and he is an enthusiastic, collaborative leader. His co-chair is Katerina Politi, PhD, a Yale University pathologist who studied in Dr. Harold Varmus’s Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center lab. Katie is an ace cancer biologist, a rising star in the science around immunotherapies and immunotherapy resistance, and she will bring strong basic science cred to the committee.
Having both an MD and a PhD as joint chairs is a tell: This group is going to have a major focus on translational medicine. While nothing in life is guaranteed, SWOG almost certainly will benefit from our new immunotherapy support committee.
The committee will help investigators in several ways. It will help investigators make connections with Jackson and Cold Spring Harbor laboratories, and the NCI’s four new Cancer Immune Monitoring and Analysis Centers (CIMACs). It will advise on concepts, aid in finding study collaborators, and possible industry partners, and serve as a liaison to the SWOG biobank, the NCI’s Cancer Therapy Evaluation Program, and database resources such as ASCO’s CancerLinQ. As the field of immunotherapy matures, the resources and tools around it are exploding, and the committee will help SWOG investigators save precious time and money.
When I asked Ken how he knows the new committee in development will be successful, he was honest. The group has not settled on formal metrics yet, though SWOG itself has standards for formal approval of a committee in development, based on protocol activation. Of course, we are also interested in how many publications and presentations those trials produce.
I hope you will join me in wishing our new immunotherapy committee in development well. Their Salt Lake City retreat was a great start.