E-Newsletter - October 2018

Insight Spotlight: alliance principal investigator
How We've Thrived in a "New" Marriage

By Thomas C. Shea, MD 
Alliance Principal Investigator
UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center

Having been a member of first the Cancer and Leukemia Group B (CALGB) and now the Alliance for more than 30 years, I have seen many changes to the organization and to the national clinical trials infrastructure over that time. Certainly, the biggest change for us has been the development of the Alliance itself as a merger between CALGB, the North Central Cancer Treatment Group (NCCTG) based at Mayo Clinic and the American College of Surgeons Oncology Group (ACOSOG). Spearheaded by the centralization of the Statistical Office under the leadership of the late Dan Sargent and current efforts by people from each of the three organizations, this “marriage” has preserved the strengths of each Group without losing productivity, enthusiasm, or participation by individual members.

Despite these changes, a combination of strong leadership by Drs. Frei, Holland, McIntyre, Schilsky and Bertagnolli, as well as dedicated contributions by people from administrative committees and countless staff and faculty have all been critical to the success of this effort over many years. I personally wish to thank my mentors, especially Drs. Frei and Mark Greene, former Chair of the Respiratory Committee who was probably the “best” oncologist I have ever known. His medical knowledge was encyclopedic and his ability to recall and apply disparate pieces of data was inspirational to me as a young faculty member at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) in the late 1980s. Likewise, the disease group chairs I have known over the years and the current heme-malignancy leadership by Rich Stone in leukemia, John Leonard in lymphoma and Paul Richardson in the multiple myeloma committees have provided exciting and innovative contributions that continue to move the Group and the field of cancer care forward. While the people above are some of those I have personally worked with the most, many others in both solid and liquid tumors, have also contributed countless hours to this labor of love and dedication to improving patient care and mentoring the next generation of clinical trialists and disease experts. Thanks and congratulations to all of you on work well done!

An NCI directed reduction in study number has energized the committee chairs to emphasize the role of the next generation of clinical trialists by seeking additional opportunities to use their skills in both traditional clinical trial leadership roles as well as correlative studies including bioinformatics, bio-marker development, health outcomes, and molecular analyses. By emphasizing the value of collaboration, perseverance, and scientific rigor, the Group has generated a wonderful cadre of young investigators who continue to value and support the national clinical trial program.

On a personal level, I am proud of the role UNC Lineberger has taken in study design, correlative science and committee leadership for the Group. In the category of “the grass is always greener,” we long to increase accrual on Alliance trials, making us all the more appreciative of the critically important role in trial enrollment that is played by our affiliates and NCORP partners such as the consortia led by Jim Atkins and Jay Bearden. At the same time, UNC’s contributions to the Group has resided in our provision of committed investigators like Rich Goldberg who played a major role as the GI Committee chair when he was at UNC and Lisa Carey, the current Breast Committee co-chair. Meanwhile, scientists like Chuck Perou and Peggy Gulley continue to play essential roles in the development of correlative molecular pathology and genetic studies while Ethan Basch and Hy Muss have contributed to developing strong Health Outcomes and Cancer in the Elderly (now Cancer in the Older Adult) efforts for the Group. In addition are the countless CRAs and research staff who continue to keep the process moving forward for our patients and investigators.

Finally, what is in store for the years ahead? As with all of what the Alliance does, the central focus is improvement in patient care. This theme applies to all our efforts whether it is broader and more effective application of currently available treatments or new treatments such as CAR T for lymphomas, leukemia and myeloma. This latter area has been a major focus for UNC over the past several years and we look forward to bringing this new and exciting technology to the Alliance through a partnership between the Transplant and Cellular Therapy and disease committees. In summary, the past for the Alliance has been a long and productive journey from the earliest days of cancer-focused collaborations between surgeons, radiation and medical hematologist-oncologists. With new tools and continued efforts to optimize patient care and outcomes, the future continues to look even brighter and more exciting.


For other articles in this issue of the Alliance E-News newsletter, see below.