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

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Cancer Moonshot Data Miners: Let’s Dig Deep

June 17, 2016 - If you want to be a part of Vice President Biden’s cancer moonshot initiative, here’s your chance. More specifically, if you want to help SWOG contribute, please step up! The National Clinical Trials Network (NCTN) has pooled data from 112 high-impact trials conducted over the last 60 years, and we’re asking our members to mine it.

We compiled this list of clinical trials, all run by SWOG, the Alliance for Cancer Research, ECOG-ACRIN, NRG Oncology, and the Canadian Cancer Trials Group, and put it on our website. You’ll see that these studies represent some of the best work from the cooperative groups, and were selected because of their significant patient impact. They tested new, more effective drugs, proved a modality was or was not needed, identified cheaper treatments, exposed unsafe therapies, or pointed out a clear path (or not!) to cancer prevention. Many have tissue samples and 10-15 years of follow-up on patients – making them especially valuable for secondary research.

On May 31, the NCTN group chairs presented this list to NCI Acting Director Dr. Doug Lowy. We wanted to offer a meaningful way we could assist in the moonshot initiative. With data and tissue specimens from thousands of trials, and the world’s leading cancer experts in our ranks, we knew we could help drive discovery and innovation quickly – which is the aim of the cancer moonshot. We offered up our data, with two possibilities: Have Dr. Lowy turn to any experts he chose for mining, or take a more active role by helping us identify questions we thought the data could answer, using “crisp hypotheses” as our guide.

Dr. Lowy gave us the go-ahead and significant encouragement for the latter: Gather those ideas and bring them back.

The opportunity for SWOG, and the entire NCTN, is huge. We’ve got access to a large pool of our partners’ data, and I believe we can use it effectively to advance our understanding of cancer and how to effectively treat it. The pool is unique. Many of the trials on our list are big – enrolling hundreds, and in some cases thousands, of patients. This gives the data unprecedented power and variety. Some of the trials involve placebo arms, so we can use the data to track the natural history of various cancers. And, most importantly, we are years or even decades out from the trial conduct, meaning we have long-term follow up and thus have windows into remission and survival rates, and the ultimate impact of a host of medical interventions and environmental and social factors.

I urge you to check out the list of trials, talk with your colleagues, and generate hypotheses these data can be used to test. Please pass your ideas on, BY JULY 15, to your committee chair, who will bring them to me. I will then bring them to the NCI. The NCI appears committed to providing the resources to pursue this important research. This is a unique opportunity to, well, shoot for the moon.


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