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The Front Line
The Front Line: Charles D. Blanke, MD, SWOG Chair

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NCTN Notices of Award are here, leading to both budget challenges and opportunities

Apr 25, 2014 - In recent weeks, there has been much said and written in clinical oncology circles regarding NCI funding cuts for the cooperative groups, within the new National Clinical Trials Network. However, most of us didn't receive actual Notices of Award (NOA) from the NCTN until just last week, and I did not wish to post a message about budget issues until we had those official NOAs in-hand and knew precisely what our financial situation was.

It's a mixed picture: SWOG's combined Operations Center and Statistical Center grant awards represent a slight increase in funding over our 2013 levels, but somewhat less than we had budgeted for and requested in 2014. As noted in the pre-award notices from the NCI, the grants take into account "the total funding anticipated for the entire NCTN program, the accrual estimated for the program [as well as our likely proportional share], and the application's impact scores." We can be proud that SWOG plans were well received by reviewers and that ultimately the funding was fairly allocated in respect to percent accrual to SWOG studies. However, the overall budget cuts to the Groups are real and must be taken quite seriously. SWOG itself still has a small budget deficit to make up.

We will look increasingly to non-NCI sources of support, including our own Hope Foundation, but the Foundation is not a panacea. SWOG leadership meets with the NCI to discuss our specific awards in coming weeks; if we can't make up the differences, we will soon after formally assess our priorities and start making what might be tough decisions, while, of course, trying to increase efficiencies. It is likely they will be focused rather than across the board cuts. I can say investigators should keep proposing trial ideas, and that good ideas will still move forward. In a tight fiscal environment, one in which we know potential network accrual may carry caps, working together across Groups will be even more essential, and we look forward to deeper discussions, and more fruitful collaboration with the other Groups.

Finally, we are still waiting to receive word on the status of our application to hold an NCORP Research Base, which also represents a significant proportion of Operations/Statistical Center activity. SWOG has a wealth of scientific expertise relative to NCORP goals, and we hope our application will be well received. Much of our planning for the next few years rides on that, especially our plans for expanding cancer care delivery research.

Financial challenges in conducting cancer research are commonplace, and we will certainly weather this test. Despite recent gloominess and even concern, the Groups continue to strive to conduct essential clinical research serving the public interest in general, and cancer patients more specifically. SWOG will carefully consider our financial priorities, fund the most promising and innovative projects, and do everything we can to ensure that important studies, like the Lung Master Protocol discussed previously in this space, are implemented and completed. Our patients expect and merit no less. SWOG lives to fight cancer another day!


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