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

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A Vote of Confidence Without Any Fine Print

Dec 8, 2014 - Over the past few years, as the National Cancer Institute has recast the cooperative group system into today's National Clinical Trials Network (NCTN), there's been an undercurrent of fear in some corners. The two main concerns I have repeatedly heard are that the NCI's longer-term intent was to completely shut down that clinical trials research endeavor or, at a minimum, that they wanted to consolidate all the adult cooperative groups into one network group that would fully be under their control.

At a meeting of the Network Group Chairs and NCI leadership in September, these questions were posed directly to NCI's top leadership. The questions truly seemed to surprise the NCI leadership. They vigorously reassured all present that they had no intent of phasing out the clinical research network. It was mutually decided that a public statement of that support in a leading journal would be extremely helpful. That statement was published online last week as a letter in the Journal of Clinical Oncology (Abrams, et al. JCO JCO.2014.59.5421; 1 Dec 2014).

In the letter, the NCI's Drs. Varmus, Doroshow, Abrams, and Kramer wrote "An integrated [clinical trials] network is essential to the research goals of the NCI; we have not invested in major changes to this critical infrastructure ... only to gradually eliminate our support for clinical trials research." They actually went even further, saying that "the NCI clinical trials networks are a source of pride to us and are envied by other institutes and centers at the National Institutes of Health." And they pledged similarly strong support for the reconstituted NCI Community Oncology Research Program (NCORP).

After reading their letter, I sent a note of thanks to the authors, who responded very graciously. I thank them here as well, for their continued support, and specifically for their very public statement of that support. This letter should help us reassure our younger investigators that investing in a career in clinical research with SWOG and the other Network Groups is an option that's not only viable but highly desirable.

Funding for the NCTN figures prominently in the NCI's "bypass budget" request for fiscal year 2016, but federal support overall is not likely to grow over the next few years, so SWOG will do what's needed to remain a vibrant research group. In addition to our NCI-supported trials, we'll continue to partner with other organizations when appropriate, generally through SWOG-CTI. We will also keep working to offset federal cuts, by independently raising money through The Hope Foundation and by trying out new partnerships and new ideas like corporate sponsorship of our Kilimanjaro Climb for Cancer Clinical Trials campaign (Jiva Cubes, Inc., first corporate sponsor, keeping up my octane rating throughout the climb with a donation of their awesome Jiva coffee cubes!).

Thanks to the NCI and thanks to our readers, for their public and private SWOG support.


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