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

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New Research Requires New Resources. SWOG is on the Move.

Feb. 19, 2016 - When the SWOG executive team gathered in Chicago, one topic rose up loudly and clearly: Assessing current capacity – and then guaranteeing the ability to find more.

Our understanding of cancer is becoming ever more complex, and our clinical trials grow more challenging as well. Precision medicine mandates genetic testing, sophisticated statistics, and more patients to be screened – at least an order of magnitude more. In addition to these increasing demands, or better put because of them, the need for collaboration grows exponentially. We must work with basic scientists, biotech companies, advocacy groups, and our partners in the NCI’s National Clinical Trials Network to design and execute this new generation of cancer clinical trials. Our expertise must be deeper, and broader, than ever before. And so must our staffing.

As our modus operandi changes at an ever faster rate, how can we marshal the resources we need?

At that fall executive retreat, we started this capacity conversation. And we’re making progress:

• Nathan Eriksen, our chief of administration, is leading a team focused on project management and information technology – two tools that can help us work smarter. Based on that work, Gretchen Goetz, our protocol operations manager, is being trained in project management and will train others in our operations, group chair, and statistical center offices. Nathan’s committee is also looking at IT software and services we can use to work together with our members and partners in new and better ways.

• Dr. Anne Schott, our vice chair, is leading a team focused on member engagement and accrual – two ingredients necessary to run successful trials. The group is looking at new strategies to engage investigators and research staff, and creating a set of metrics to monitor to ensure we’re meeting patient enrollment targets. The retreat spawned four other working groups dedicated to helping us with our mission.

• Rick Bangs, chair of our patient advocate committee, kindly connected us with a retired human resources executive and cancer survivor, Darrell Kidd, who is donating his time to help us identify critical SWOG staff positions and ensure we have a succession plan in place for each. Just as we identify and support young investigators, we need to identity and support key staff, and to ensure we have qualified replacements.

• Sarah Gothard, SWOG’s sponsored award program coordinator, started here in the group chair’s office this week. Sarah’s position is both new and vital. She reports to Amber Roberts, our grants and contracts coordinator, and she will work with our principal investigators to assist with budget development, complete grant application forms, and track and route submissions, as well as identify grant opportunities. We’re bringing on additional staff, as needed, to support carrying out our research in a timely fashion.

Capacity building is a buzzword (buzzphrase?), but it really boils down to ensuring we have the infrastructure necessary to overcome organizational hurdles. I want to thank all SWOG and The Hope Foundation staff, and our members, who are helping us do this work. I also thank the SWOG members, and some terrific volunteers, who are working on our digital engagement efforts – which will also help us be more efficient and more innovative. As always, please share your ideas. We need as many good ones as we can get!


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