As a Big Ten graduate (Michigan State – Go Green!), team work for me has always meant a well executed pass for a touchdown, or a three point shot that leaves the crowd breathless. But team work around the Big 10 has new meaning since the February 2013 birth of the Big 10 Cancer Research Consortium (BTCRC).
The concept of group research is not a new one. In 1955, the National Cancer Institute created and sponsored the Clinical Trials Cooperative Group Program. So what’s the big deal about the BTCRC’s work? To best understand, I had a chat with Susan Goodin, Pharm.D, and the Executive Officer of the organization.
One often has the impression that researchers carefully guard their work for a number of reasons. What are some of the benefits of belonging to the BTCRC?
A big benefit of doing research at a major university is the ability for scientists to collaborate with clinicians. The Big 10 is fortunate to have very strong cancer centers at its member schools. So now imagine the collaboration between scientists and clinicians across all these institutions! There is a great deal of enthusiasm conference-wide for the work that’s possible.
A second benefit is mentorship. The BTCRC is able to offer junior investigators the opportunity to be mentored by experienced investigators and lead national trials. Many of our current cancer center directors gained experience in the cooperative group system and were mentored themselves. They’re now able to pay it forward.
Lastly, we see great benefit in the ability to answer questions more quickly. For example, a junior investigator involved in a current endometrial cancer trial had ideas he never would have been able to pursue without a large patient population. Through the consortium, he’ll be able to enroll patients to the trial and therefore ask and answer questions much more quicklyregarding the effectiveness of the therapy.
You have experience with a number of cancer organizations and have authored publications on the topic. But this position is a little different. Can you share some of the rewards from your personal involvement in the consortium?
It’s so exciting to lead any new entity. But no one has ever tried to bring together this many large, strong cancer centers to collaborate on clinical trials. I was honored and humbled to be asked to lead it.
And then there are the road trips! I’ve been visiting our member institutions and learning about their individual strengths, face to face. That’s completely different than just reading what’s on paper. And we’re bringing all those strengths together. It’s amazing and encouraging with respect to our attack on cancer.
And while I hate to sound old, it’s been equally exciting to hear and see the enthusiasm among the consortium’s junior investigators. It’s the consortium’s job is to help them become the next generation of investigators. And they are going to do great things!
Patients diagnosed with advanced or metastatic disease are anxious for treatment, ANY treatment – some even offering to serve as human “lab rats.” Given that kind of urgency, do you see the timeframe from bench to bedside lessening in the future?
The BTCRC’s administrative office is able to take some of the burden off the investigators. Writing (with investigators’ approval) informed consent forms, filing paperwork to regulatory agencies, and so on is very time consuming. The BTCRC does not have many layers of regulation and this allows us to move Ideas forward much more quickly. Furthermore, the US Food and Drug Administration is being pushed to streamline their processes on a continual basis as well.
Understandably, researchers focus on treatment, cure, and early detection. Are they able to also consider survivors’ quality of life post treatment in their research?
It is a constant consideration. A quality of life component is coming to trials. The BTCRC now has added five working groups since I came on board. And every one of them discusses quality of life. We know the new targeted therapies are not without side effects. But every new drug needs patient populations that have been followed 5, 10, and 15 years out. With new drugs, we don’t have that yet. But rest assured, every trial under discussion considers quality of life questions.
We survivors are so grateful to our medical teams, as well as the researchers who have given so much to improve our outcomes. What ways could you suggest that survivors collaborate with researchers on all aspects of their work?
Survivors can help on so many levels. We’ve had numerous discussions about bringing survivors into clinical trial groups. It’s important to have your perspective, even in the design of trials.
Each of the cancer centers have always tried to have at least a patient advocate review each trial. I think if survivors are willing and able, sitting on advisory or review boards for organizations and cancer centers within their area or institution would be fabulous.
It’s just as important for survivors to make themselves and their willingness to help known. To springboard off one of the WSA’s ribbons of support, it’s the perfect 2nd Act!