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

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SWOG 101: Our Non-Classic Committees

Sep 12, 2014 - I need to warn you in advance this may not be the most exciting Front Line ever. Nonetheless, many have asked me to delve deeper into our infrastructure, and I thought it was time to let you know about some lesser known but important components of the Group. In general, SWOG's functions stem from its underlying committee structure. In addition to our disease, discipline (radiation, surgery, and transplant) and NCORP committees, we also have several "non-classic" committees, which play key roles in our work:

  • Conflict Management (Vernon Sondak, Chair)
  • Data and Safety Monitoring, or DSMC (Lawrence Flaherty, Chair)
  • Membership (James Weick, Chair)
  • Oncology Research Professionals, or ORP (Rose Ermete, Chair)
  • Patient Advocates (Rick Bangs, Chair)
  • Professional Review (Primo Lara, Chair)
  • Quality Assurance (Manuel Valdivieso, Chair)

Despite its fun-sounding name, the Conflict Management Committee does not engage in dispute mediation. It is concerned with potential and actual financial conflicts of interest among SWOG researchers and studies, and develops management plans to mitigate such conflicts. In recent years, it has reviewed hundreds of study coordinator disclosure forms for possible conflicts and has implemented and monitored dozens of conflict management plans. This is a critical function in protecting the credibility of our results and the integrity of our name.

The Data and Safety Monitoring Committee may be the most underappreciated within SWOG, but it quietly plays a decisive role in every phase III and randomized phase II study we conduct. The DSMC functions as the watchdog that monitors patient safety, decides on a data release date, and rarely moves to close trials early, all independent of the study team that designs and conducts the trial. This independence is, of course, vital. When an interim analysis of results is done, it's the DSMC that reviews it to decide whether a study should be changed or even closed based on those early results. Finally, the DSMC evaluates any major changes a study team proposes for an ongoing trial.

The Membership and Professional Review Committees are both charged with upholding the highest professional standards within SWOG, with the former reviewing the qualifications of new investigator nominees before they are allowed SWOG membership and the latter reviewing nominations for institutional membership. Both Committees make their recommendations to our Board of Governors, which has the final say.

The Oncology Research Professionals Committee -- the product of a 2012 merger of the former Nursing Committee and Clinical Research Associates Committee -- supports protocol development and patient recruitment for SWOG trials, and provides relevant educational opportunities to SWOG nurses, CRAs, and other non-physician research professionals. One of its primary venues for professional education is the Oishi Symposium, held at every group meeting since fall 2011. The ORP group undertakes many of its initiatives in collaboration with other SWOG committees.

The Patient Advocates Committee, one of SWOG's newest, was formalized in 2013 from the earlier Patient Advocates Program. The primary goal of this group is to represent the voice of the patient throughout the lifecycle of trial conception, development, and conduct. More on our important advocates is coming in a dedicated future Front Line.

Finally, I wrote in some detail about our Quality Initiative in an earlier Front Line, so won't repeat myself here in discussing the Quality Assurance Committee. Really, all of the non-classic committees I've mentioned above are dedicated to optimizing quality and to ensuring that what we do, we do well -- through educating members, monitoring credentials and safeguarding integrity, and ensuring the patient perspective informs all we do. So while my description of these committees may not be exciting, they're certainly critical to our success, which I find exciting indeed.


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