May 16, 2014 -
I have a projected 14 cross-country trips from Portland to DC this year, not counting the few extra, last-minute ones that will certainly also arise. These originate because of my positions in both SWOG and ASCO. Last week I had the good fortune to be able to integrate both roles, as SWOG Chair and ASCO Board Member, in attending an annual "Hill Day" event sponsored by ASCO and several other professional and advocacy organizations. The Hill here, of course, is Capitol Hill, and I joined a group of other oncology researchers, patient advocates, and cancer center leaders in a series of congressional meetings, to speak up for our patients and for the importance of continued strong public support for research into the causes of and better treatments for cancer.
I got to make a "cooperative group" pitch (which also is in line with what ASCO desires and supports), face-to-face with one senator and one senior staff member from a senator's office, both from my home state of Oregon -- Senator Jeff Merkley and Senator Ron Wyden. I also had a nice nearly one-on-one with my Congressional district's House member, Representative Ron Blumenauer. All recently signed a "Dear Colleague" letter supporting cancer research. Happily, all three of these elected officials were/are quite friendly to the idea of maximizing funding to the National Cancer Institute, NIH, and FDA, and they recognize what we all know -- the cooperative groups conduct research no one else will do. They share our wish to ensure as many Americans as possible have access to high quality cancer clinical trials.
I returned to the DC area this week, this time with SWOG Statistical Center leadership, to meet with NCI's National Clinical Trials Network and discuss specifics of some of the issues we mentioned on Hill Day (e.g., accrual caps). NCTN leaders are sitting down with the heads of each network group to review budgets, budget cuts, and other changes in group structure and function. The tone of our session was positive. Some of their key issues raised were whether the budget cuts will lead to the closing of ongoing studies (we repeated what I have told you -- if necessary, other cuts will be made long before we would even consider closing SWOG studies because of these budget challenges) and how we as a group plan to monitor our patient accrual numbers. Active monitoring of accrual numbers is now a standard agenda item on one weekly GCO/Operations call each month, and the Statistical Center is developing some new tools to make it easier to visualize and compare accrual rates, goals, and projections across protocols.
NCTN leaders also re-emphasized the need for closer collaboration among the network groups, for avoiding cross-group duplication, and for ensuring that rare disease studies continue to move forward. Within SWOG itself, we have made significant progress on a plan for achieving this last goal; we are cognizant of and always strive to meet the second; and we continue to work to develop ways to better achieve the first.