When I became SWOG group chair in 2013, one of my top goals was to expand veterans’ access to clinical trials. To oversee that effort, I launched a VA working group that year (later to become our VA committee!), led, most ably, by Stephen Bartlett, RPh.

In 2015, in collaboration with our VA working group, The Hope Foundation inaugurated its VA Integration Support Program, and that October we announced the first five VA medical centers to receive these awards, $25,000 to support the centers’ efforts to open NCTN clinical trials in their facilities.

This program has since awarded more than $700,000 to 21 VA medical centers across the US. In fact, in an NCI meeting earlier this year, SWOG and our VA leadership (thank you, Steve!) were credited with inspiring and helping to jump-start NAVIGATE, the joint NCI–VA program initiated in 2018 to get VA medical centers re-involved with NCTN and NCORP research. By any measure, our VA Integration Support Program has been a success.

In fall 2014, we had a new type of VA group called the Massachusetts Veterans Epidemiology Research and Information Center, or MAVERIC, become a SWOG member. This was actually a small network of five VA medical centers across New England that joined SWOG under one umbrella “storefront.”

A VA storefront is a consortium of several VA medical centers coordinated and supported by a central hub site and staff. This core of expertise allows more efficient operation of clinical research across a number of VA sites.

Trained staff at a storefront hub can guide consortium sites through the required processes of being a member of a cooperative group and opening and accruing to trials, thus eliminating a major roadblock to bringing VA sites into the NCTN. Combining accruals under a storefront model can also make it possible for small VA sites with only a few patient accruals to meet group accrual requirements.

The MAVERIC storefront has now grown to represent 11 sites, which have 20 NCTN protocols open and enrolled 59 patients to those trials in 2021, and though other sites would like to join MAVERIC, it has reached capacity. Additional storefronts are needed. The VA committee estimates an additional four storefronts are needed to meet demand, along with a nationwide storefront coordinating program. 

At the same time, the committee notes that the VA Integration Support Program may have reached a limit in terms of the number of VA sites that have the wherewithal to forge ahead solo, even with award support.

Given these facts, our VA committee and The Hope Foundation have transformed the existing program and now announce our new VA Storefront Support Program, which will provide grants of up to $150,000 each year for up to two years to support already established NCTN or NCORP sites that want to go MAVERIC’s route and serve as hubs for multiple VA sites. Full details are available in the formal request for applications. The deadline for applications to the new VA Storefront Support Program is August 8, 2022.

Just as I’m particularly proud of the work we’ve done to make NCI trials available to a much wider group of veterans, Hope Foundation President Jo Horn, who collaborated with our VA working group/committee in establishing both the old and the new programs, says she’s similarly proud, both of Hope’s legacy of providing 21 VA Integration Awards and of the Foundation’s ability to actively listen and to pivot as needed:

“When the VA committee leadership outlined the need for a new storefront approach to better serve our shared mission of increasing trial access for veterans,” she says, “the Hope board heard them and took quick action. We are eager to extend this new support across the VA system and NCTN and NCORP.”

For his part, VA committee chair Steve Bartlett says he and the committee are, “extremely grateful to the Hope Foundation board for moving so quickly to approve our proposal and allowing us to make this available this year. This will help us start to address the demand for an additional storefront to support multiple VA medical centers to open and offer cancer trials to our veterans.”

Offering more cancer trials to more veterans was our goal in 2013, and it remains our goal with this new funding program. If you know of VA sites (or other sites) already involved with the NCTN and/or NCORP that might be interested in serving as storefront hubs for multiple VA medical center “spokes,” let them know that applications to the new VA Storefront Support Program are due August 8, 2022. With luck and some hard work, this Veterans Day we’ll be able to announce a new VA storefront bringing NCI cancer trials to US veterans at a new group of VA medical centers.