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

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Front row (literally) at ASCO 2016

June 10, 2016 - Yes, I really did have a front row seat for Vice President Joe Biden’s cancer moonshot speech at ASCO 2016. Giving up a reserved seat in row six, I requested an upgrade. And got it! And hearing what the Vice President had to say was worth it.

Most of his sentiments, to be honest, were not new. To beat cancer, we need to cooperate across sectors and disciplines. We need to use every tool – from genomic sequencing to immunotherapy – we’ve got. We need an increased sense of urgency.

A recurring theme was that we need to better share data. At the podium, Biden re-announced the NCI’s Genomic Data Commons, a database that gives researchers access to raw genomic information from NCI funded trials – including ours and those of our partners in the NCI’s National Clinical Trials Network (NCTN). Access will be interactive and searchable and publicly accessible through an NCI portal. Already, it contains raw genomic and clinical data on 12,000 patients. Interestingly, we discussed data sharing at length at a meeting about two weeks ago with NCI Acting Director Doug Lowy and other NCTN chairs. Some interesting collaborations should surface, so please stay tuned.

Of course there were other ASCO highlights:

• SWOG was well represented: We had 53 session speakers, 33 session chairs, 29 session discussants, 21 research presentations, two moderators, and two special award lecturers. My congratulations to all.

• The special award lecturers were fascinating: Dr. Paul Bunn of the University of Colorado Denver speaking on lung cancer, and Dr. C. Kent Osborne of Baylor College of Medicine, on endocrine therapy resistance.

• NCI cooperative groups got the spotlight, with presentations on our history and impact by Dr. Richard Schilsky, ASCO chief medical officer, as well as Dr. Razelle Kurzrock, SWOG early therapeutics and rare cancers committee chair from UC San Diego.

• Cooperative groups starred at the plenary, with a report by the Canadian Cancer Trials Group that showed extending the use of aromatase inhibitors from five to 10 years in postmenopausal women with early-stage breast cancer significantly improved remission times. Our own Dr. Julie Gralow of Fred Hutch led for SWOG, and ECOG-ACRIN and the Alliance also took part. The New York Times, the BBC, and other major news outlets picked up the findings.

• Our Lung-MAP precision medicine trial got promoted at the NCI booth and was the subject of a breakfast meeting that attracted more than 60 lung cancer investigators and pharmaceutical executives. Lung-MAP study chairs report it was a positive session, with a lot of enthusiasm for the momentum and direction of that trial, which has enrolled more than 700 patients and is open at more than 700 sites.

• SWOG NCORP Vice Chair Dr. Dawn Hershman of Columbia University was named a Fellow of ASCO.

I’ll close by noting how energizing ASCO was this year. Are we truly, as the Vice President observed, at an inflection point? We really do seem poised to make big, lasting change for patients. As Biden told the crowd: This is a moment we’ve got to seize.

P.S.: Congratulations to Dr. Primo Lara of UC Davis Health System on his election to the board of directors of The Hope Foundation. An excellent addition to an excellent institution.


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