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

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Highlights of the Love: SWOG Fall 2014 Group Meeting

Nov 14, 2014 - Last week I wanted to get out word of our new SEED Fund juried award program far in advance of its December 1 deadline, so I put off my column on Fall Group Meeting takeaways until this week.

Recordings of Plenary I, Plenary II, and the Oishi Symposium are online, and I won't extensively review these here. They include Best of SWOG presentations from several of our traditional disease and cancer control & prevention committees. The talk on ethics and genetic testing, by Dr. Angela Bradbury, is itself well worth the price of admission!

Our Quality Initiative team helps ensure even our recent, rapid changes don't compromise SWOG's high standards. The Quality Initiative session in Chicago reviewed options for how to work with sites that have been left "orphaned" by the transitions to the NCTN and NCORP. Formalizing standards for international participation in SWOG studies was also discussed.

Of course, SWOG is now a global research organization, and several international sites are already contributing significantly to SWOG-led studies. At the International Initiatives session we had good discussions with representatives from the NCI-equivalents in Peru, Colombia, and Mexico (all of which are SWOG members). Topics included the prevalence of underlying viral infections in cancer patients (i.e., hepatitis, HPV) and similarities and differences among U.S. and Latin American patients.

The newly expanded Early Therapeutics & Rare Diseases Committee held its first gathering. We face a number of challenges here, including some involving communications. Given the small universe of patients available for any rare cancer study, it becomes even more important to advertise these trials across all NCTN groups (warning: ADVERTISEMENT -- Keep an eye out for SWOG's histology-agnostic study of lenvatinib, currently in our pipeline). We also need to get rare cancer specialists from a wide variety of disease sites more involved in the work of this Committee. Note we face similar challenges with our Surgery and our Adolescent and Young Adult Committees, in terms of raising research committee interest in partnering with other groups.

The Saturday session for NCORP PIs and CRAs was highly energetic and very positive. This is definitely a forum we'll continue as a standing session. Kathleen Castro, NCI's Cancer Care Delivery Research Program Officer, fielded questions and helped clarify what's been termed the "black box of CCDR," which will assume increasing importance during the course of this NCORP grant cycle. This session attracted an eager, committed group of researchers, with lots of questions about the challenges they face in the NCORP era. There's definitely room here for further outreach on the part of SWOG leadership.

Our "Navigating SWOG for Young Investigators" sessions (there were two, both hosted by Dr. Cathy Eng, MD Anderson's SWOG PI) earned high marks from attendees, so much so that we've discussed whether such "navigating SWOG" sessions might be beneficial to other specific groups of investigators, such as radiation and surgical oncologists, and so on. If we do move ahead with these, you'll hear about it in this space in the coming months.

It wasn't all rosy. Some of our TM educational efforts, unfortunately, were not complete successes, not because the content was anything but superb, but because turnout was low. For example, our symposium on collaborative opportunities with Cold Spring Harbor and The Jackson Laboratories, which featured several scientists from each institution presenting their work, was sparsely attended. This may have been a result of poor advertising, and SWOG will work harder on getting the word out. Keep in mind the opportunities that were outlined are generally great candidates for the new ITSC Pilots program awards (you can hear Deputy Chair Anne Schott describe this funding program in the recording of her Plenary I presentation, starting at 1:57). I'll be saying more on this -- and related topics -- in this column soon.

Obviously this is just a quick pass at reviewing some of the best of SWOG from our Chicago gathering. Please let me hear from you about your Group Meeting experience.


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