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

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Team Science

Oct 3, 2014 - Warning to readers -- this week's Front Line is a bit on the demonstrative side. Not that there's anything wrong with that . . .. SWOG, of course, is one of four adult cooperative oncology research groups funded by the NCI. The "cooperativity" does not refer just to members coming together to conduct clinical trials. In fact, I have been exposed to the multi-faceted nature of group cooperativity several times over the last month.

This past week we conducted our annual Young Investigators Training Course in Seattle. Most years, the SWOG leaders and staff who have gathered to teach the course engage in a team-building exercise the day before the YI course begins. Whitewater rafting trips have been the norm in the past, but this year's exploit was a hike around Snow Lake in Mount Rainier National Park. It was a gorgeous day, and we were in stunning country (see for yourself, below). Team-building exercises, especially at the start of a three-day workshop dedicated to training and engaging the next generation of SWOG leaders, are more than just an excuse to get outdoors. They serve to make the group more cohesive, more responsive to each other's needs, and more of a team. I can guarantee we learned quite a bit more about each other, even about friends and colleagues we had known for years. Those goals are an essential part of what we then communicated to the early career researchers we worked with over the next three days. Teamwork and collaboration, across disciplines and distances, are fundamental to the successful development and conduct of clinical trials in a publicly-funded group, and SWOG leadership wanted the YIs to understand this from the very beginning.

I'm also pleased to see a heightened desire for collaboration between cooperative group (now officially Network group) leaders as well. The group chairs, including those from COG and NCIC, recently held a joint meeting with Dr. Harold Varmus, Director of the NCI, to discuss budgets and priorities. Working together beforehand to plan our strategy for putting our case before Dr. Varmus was absolutely critical to the eventual success of this meeting. This underpins the sort of intergroup cooperation the NCTN was designed to foster and reward, and the type of collaboration that is absolutely needed to conduct precision cancer medicine control and treatment trials in small subsets of cancer patients.

Within our group, at a more senior level, I am pleased to report markedly more communication between committees, looking for common pathways to attack and successful research strategies to export to more than one siloed group.

As we face tight budgets and dwindling federal resources over the next few years, we'll need to rely even more on this sort of teamwork, within ever widening circles of collaboration, both in terms of science and even leveraging funds. Whether it's developing a protocol, meeting the accrual goals of a large trial, or climbing a mountain, what's needed is teamwork, now more than ever.

SWOG leaders and staff at Snow Lake
Click image to enlarge

P.S. Through an administrative or technological glitch, five group meeting office hour appointments with Novartis were mistakenly reserved in our registration system and are once again open. The good news: Office hour time slots with Novartis representatives are still available for the Chicago meeting! Visit the group meeting registration page to sign up for one.


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