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

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Pharmaceutical Sciences: On the Leading Edge - Again!

Nov. 20, 2015 - Our pharmaceutical sciences committee plays a quiet but critical role here at SWOG. Two of its members sit on each disease committee, where they review and help write protocols that involve a commercial or investigational drug. Needless to say, they do this to help ensure patient safety. Creating clear guidelines on how trial drugs should be labeled, shipped, stored, and dispensed is also an integral part of their work. Pharmacists also advise our investigators on drug interactions, the use of placebos and natural supplements, and have, over the years, saved taxpayers millions of dollars by identifying cost-effective trial agents and ensuring they're handled properly.

Siu Fun Wong, a PharmD and professor of oncology at the Chapman University School of Pharmacy, formed SWOG's committee in 1994. Their first project was making an educational video on safe handling of investigational drugs, which has been used across the National Cancer Trials Network, and has served as a vanguard in this respect. The NCI is creating a safety program around the handling of investigational drugs, and our team remains involved.

Now the pharmaceutical sciences committee is innovating again. They're putting together a top-shelf team to focus on pharmacogenomics.

Pharmacogenomic research, combining the science of drugs with the science of genetics, is another key to SWOG's goal of better understanding and applying precision medicine. In this case, our pharmaceutical sciences committee has the goal of improving our understanding how genes affect individuals' responses to medications. It's work that will ultimately help doctors select the drugs and dosages best suited to their unique patients.

The field is still fairly new. Only about 150 drugs have FDA-approved labels that include information on pharmacogenomic biomarkers and related dosing, clinical response variability, and the risk of adverse events. Our committee members are clearing a path, forming a subcommittee that will work through our trials to study genetic variations and their impact on drug response.

Dr. Wong, who remains committee co-chair, along with Dr. Susan Kadlubar, an associate professor of medical genetics at the University of Arkansas, are pulling together pharmacists and PhD scientists to draft a mission statement and strategic plan for the new subcommittee. It's still forming, but will include at least five genetic experts from outside SWOG, including a scientist from The Jackson Laboratory, one of SWOG's basic science partners and members. The subcommittee hopes to convene for the first time at our spring meeting in San Francisco to talk about how they can accelerate discovery by working on trials and acting as a resource for the entire group.

I have no doubt they will succeed. The committee has already served us well, creating a protocol checklist for disease committees, and helping to create an online library of drug information at our operations center.

I thank Siu Fun Wong, Susan Kadlubar, and the entire pharmaceutical sciences committee for being relentless, collaborative, and effective agents for change and for improving our work for patients. I can't wait to see what they do next.

Note: An important person went unmentioned in last week's post about secondary analysis. Dr. Kathy Albain of Loyola University of Chicago played a key role in the secondary analysis published last month in JAMA Oncology, serving as an author on the paper, and as a researcher on the original work upon which it was based. Please accept my apologies for the omission.