I am pleased to report our SWOG Latin America Initiative (SLAI) clinical trials and statistics course is back in action! We just held our first in-person training conference since before the pandemic, this time in Montevideo, Uruguay.

Starting with our first SLAI clinical trials training course in the spring of 2016, and always with sustaining support from The Hope Foundation, we’ve held such an event for Latin American researchers annually. We did move to a purely virtual platform for the two courses convened during the pandemic. These events are attended by local oncologists, nurses, data managers, research coordinators, statisticians, radiotherapists, epidemiologists, and other health and research professionals.

Last week’s “in-person” course was actually a hybrid event (hybrid is clearly the new face-to-face), with several dozen attendees – and presenters – in the room and several dozen online. The event was held in collaboration with La Universidad de La Republica and the Hospital de Clinicas “Dr. Manuel Quintela” in Montevideo. It was a bilingual affair, with presentations given in Spanish or English and simultaneously translated to the other language – both in the room via headphones and online via Zoom.

The format was a real success, and future training courses will continue to be hybrid. SWOG feels the face-to-face component, with a core group of individuals on the ground, will always be important – particularly to build relationships and to provide in-person feedback on proposals. But we like the idea of expanding access by offering the virtual option.

The focus of this year’s session was cancer control research, and local experts and SWOG investigators, together with our partners at CRAB, delivered a set of extraordinary lectures on study design and methodology. These included sessions on population-based research, the regulatory environment for research in Uruguay, epidemiological research, and even on the publication or presentation of research results (here’s the agenda). It was a real honor to have Dr. Julie Gralow, former SWOG executive officer and current ASCO chief medical officer, attend and present.

In addition, the last day of the conference featured a hands-on-workshop in which eight local investigators, with the help of SWOG faculty, developed and refined research proposals.

Dr. Mariana Chavez Mac Gregor, SWOG’s executive officer for international affairs, said it “underscored the evident expertise of clinical trial professionals in Latin America and the benefit of including these populations in SWOG studies.” 

We are, in fact, including these populations in SWOG – and other NCI – studies in ever-increasing numbers, as SLAI expands our portfolio of trials conducted jointly in the US and our partner institutions in Latin America. 

SLAI sites accrued a significant number of patients to S1316 and even more to S1714. Latin American sites are also working to activate five additional SWOG trials and two ECOG-ACRIN trials (as with our initiative to bring more VA medical centers on board, the goal is to broaden access not to SWOG trials alone but to NCI-sponsored trials generally). Several sites have also indicated their intention to participate in other protocols and concepts now in development.

Dr. Chavez Mac Gregor continues to think big: “Our successes over the years have led us to become more audacious in our aspirations,” she said. “I would personally love to see the concept of the NCI National Clinical Trials Network implemented across countries in Latin America, leveraging the region’s research professionals and generating transformative data on diseases of relevance both to Latin America and to the United States.  This regional cooperative group would accelerate our understanding of cancer and contribute to reducing the burden of cancer across the world.”

A hemisphere-wide clinical trials network is certainly an audacious aspiration, but it’s absolutely one worth pursuing. In the meantime, I remain proud of our SLAI members’ contributions to SWOG’s research and mission.

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