Well, that was a rock-solid group meeting! In Chicago last week, speakers were incisive, conversations were relevant, and members were engaged. Here is my list of personal highlights:

- Both the translational medicine and general plenaries were outstanding – two of the best ever, in my book. At the TM plenary, Drs. Timothy Yap and Luis Diaz provided exceptional lectures targeting DNA damage repair pathways and liquid biopsies, respectively. Dr. Nikolaus Schultz did an outstanding job helping us better understand how to query complex genomic databases. All three talks have the potential to inform SWOG clinical research. Soon!

- At the general plenary, topics were also highly relevant, with Dr. Sheila Prindiville giving an update about the NAVIGATE collaboration between NCI and the VA. NAVIGATE is even more promising than our work with the SWOG/Hope VA Integration Support program, which itself aims to get more military veterans onto NCI cancer clinical trials. Dr. Paul Hesketh updated us on the eligibility criteria expansion project initiated by ASCO and Friends of Cancer Research – and got hit with more questions from committee chairs in the audience than I’ve seen in a long time. And Dr. Otis Brawley hit a home run with his visionary, passionate lecture on cancer disparities.

- Nathan Eriksen’s presentation to committee chairs outlined the restructuring of our operations center, which employs 38 people in San Antonio. New hires recently were aimed at boosting our capacity, speeding trial activations and closures, addressing the complexity in clinical trials, reducing staff turnover and boosting morale, and supporting leadership succession planning. The restructuring involved hiring a new assistant director of operations, Norbert Strauss, and creating three new clinical trial project manager positions, who can help get protocols completed and launched more quickly.

- Also at the committee chair’s meeting, our assistant director of administration, Casey Dawson, delivered a terrific presentation on the new centralized coverage analysis process. Championed by SWOG, NCI, and ASCO, the process is aimed at saving sites thousands of hours of work – and millions of dollars over time. To implement the process, the NCI has tapped their Cancer Trials Support Unit to provide national coverage analyses for phase 3 and select phase 2 trials for SWOG and all the groups in the National Clinical Trials Network. This process has sparked some concerns (billing is a perennial hot-button in cancer trials) and Casey received some helpful feedback to bring back to her committee and the NCI. Some SWOG members also stepped up with offers to help iterate the process. (Special thanks to Scott Ramsey for offering his expertise). A meaty conversation on a timely topic.

- On Saturday, the SWOG board of governors voted to change the group chair’s term from as many as three, five-year terms to a maximum of two, six-year terms. This decision came, with my urging, in order to synch up the group chair’s term with that of the new six-year grant cycles from the NCTN and NCORP programs. It simply makes sense. Thanks to the board for ensuring smooth leadership transitions going forward.

And how could I forget my very biggest thrills – Chicago style deep dish pizza (sadly, at four of my meals) and our standard reception, which this time celebrated the Hope Foundation for Cancer Research’s 25th anniversary. And, finally, the new logo reveal. Just look up! We’re officially the SWOG Cancer Research Network.

Thanks to everyone who attended and presented. I am already looking forward to San Francisco!