Last week, I met with a group of SWOG leaders in Seattle for a retreat to discuss where our SWOG Latin America Initiative (SLAI) stands today, to propose solutions to the challenges it faces, and to plot strategy to continue and build on its success over the next few years.

The SLAI mission is to improve lives in Latinx populations through cancer clinical trials and translational research. This mission statement does not mention Latin America explicitly for the simple reason that the mission is broader than just Central and South America – it includes improving lives and cancer care for Hispanic populations in the US as well.

Hispanic/Latinx are now the largest minority group in the US, and the picture we see of cancer care needs in Latin America is increasingly becoming the picture we see of cancer care needs in the US.

Our discussion in Seattle was deep and broad-ranging. We devoted a day and a half to bringing together a range of voices from SWOG’s various offices and components, all of whom play vital roles in making this initiative successful.

Among the topics we addressed were steps to more fully integrate investigators from Latin America into SWOG committee work. Eight of our disease and research support committees already count Latin American investigators among their members, and we want to ensure everyone is aware of these opportunities. Beyond initial committee membership, we also encourage Latin America investigators who are interested in becoming even more engaged to reach out to committee leadership to ask about joining relevant working groups, which are typically the nurseries in which trial concepts are born and nurtured.

We also talked about how to expand career development opportunities for our Latin American investigators. In addition to a dedicated slot for an applicant from Latin America in our Early-Stage Investigator Training Course, we discussed mentorship programs within the framework of our group meetings – with their invaluable opportunities for face-to-face interaction – and creating a description of the role of “clinical trial co-investigator.”

A high-level goal of our SLAI is to develop research projects of high interest to both Latin American researchers and patient populations in Latin America, particularly projects that are also relevant to Latinos/Latinas in the US. Such projects might grow from trial concepts Latin American members propose for development as SWOG studies, or they might be developed with pharmaceutical partners through SWOG Clinical Trials Partnerships.

And of course, increasing the number of current SWOG trials open at Latin American member sites is an ongoing goal our staff continue to work on intensively.

Opening trials across international borders, however, is fraught with challenges. We tackled a number of these head-on in Seattle, and came away with a list of ideas – and some concrete steps – for overcoming them. Just one example: biospecimen processing can present a slew of difficulties when conducting a trial internationally. For this reason, for some of our current trials, we are likely to amend the protocol and to create alternate consent forms to exempt international sites from having to offer their patients the opportunity to contribute biospecimens for unspecified future research.

To help align new SWOG trials to be easier to open across borders, we will provide a clear guideline document to our committee chairs that will help them to consider – and to share with their committee members – those factors that can determine whether a study can be conducted internationally (by the way, cross-border oncology research is a theme that just may be touched on in the general plenary session at the spring group meeting).

There was much talk in Seattle about how to measure SLAI success, a question that takes on added urgency when you consider that our application for the next NCTN grant cycle is likely to be due in about a year. We identified a few SLAI goals on which we can readily measure progress:

  • giving more patients access to our trials, which goes hand in hand with increased accrual to those trials
  • supporting the development of high-quality research infrastructure at our Latin American member sites
  • increasing the number of protocols we offer that are relevant to – and feasible for – these sites
  • expanding opportunities for Latin American investigators at all stages of the trial life cycle, from conception to publication

Evidence of progress according to these indicators should make it easier for our new SWOG chair-elect (to be selected in less than four months, I might add!) to make the argument for continued support of SLAI.

We’re proud of what we’ve accomplished with our SWOG Latin America Initiative, and of what we’re accomplishing now. Given the outcomes of our retreat in Seattle last week, I predict we’ll be even prouder of what SLAI will go on to accomplish in future years.

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