By Richard L. Schilsky, MD, FASCO, Chief Medical Officer of ASCO.
The map on the TV screen in front of me said we were just passing Juneau at 37,000 feet with four hours remaining in the flight. It had been about 14 hours since I left Guangzhou, where I participated in ACT-China III, a workshop organized by the Chinese Society of Clinical Oncology (CSCO) in association with ASCO and the Society for Translational Oncology. Nearly 70 mid-career Chinese oncologists were selected from an applicant pool of more than 400 to attend this three-day course comprised of lectures and interactive sessions about the design and conduct of cancer clinical trials with a focus on biomarker-driven clinical trials.
ACT-China (Advanced Clinical Trials in China) was conceived four years ago by two visionary leaders of CSCO, Dr. Shu-Kui Qin of the Nanjing Bayi Hospital and Dr. Yi-Long Wu of the Guangdong General Hospital, then President and President-Elect respectively of CSCO, who recognized that the best way to deliver outstanding care and modern cancer treatments to Chinese cancer patients was to equip Chinese oncologists with the skills necessary to design, conduct, and report clinical trials that were performed in China and could stand up to the scrutiny of the Chinese FDA. Their vision was to engage an international faculty of experienced clinical trialists to “train the trainers,” that is to train the academic and clinical leaders in Chinese oncology in clinical trial design so that this knowledge could then be passed along to Chinese oncologists-in-training throughout the country.
I had the privilege of serving as one of the founding faculty of ACT-China along with current ASCO Board member Dr. Lillian Siu, ASCO immediate Past-President Dr. Sandra Swain and Professor Jack Lee, an innovative statistician and brilliant teacher from MD Anderson Cancer Center. The first ACT-China workshop was held in Shanghai, in 2011, with ACT-China II and III held in Guangzhou. Lillian, Jack, and I have participated in each workshop along with Professors Qin and Wu, as well as Drs. Jin Lin from Fudan University Shanghai Cancer Center and Shun Lu from the Shanghai Chest Hospital.
This was a most gratifying experience for us all. Our CSCO hosts were generous and gracious, and the oncologists attending the workshops were smart, motivated, knowledgeable, creative, and remarkably hard working. The level of discussion was high (facilitated by two-way translation), and the content of the questions asked reflected a deep understanding by Chinese oncologists of contemporary cancer biology and treatment. Given China’s large population, much of the global incident burden of cancer will occur in this country in the coming years, and it is great to see that the oncology leaders of the country recognize their responsibility to meet this challenge by organizing clinical trials in China for the benefit of Chinese cancer patients. I’ve been honored to participate in this effort and pleased to offer ASCO’s continued assistance to CSCO in furthering their educational mission.
As 2013 draws to a close, and I reflect on my other global travels this year, it is more clear to me than ever that cancer scientists and clinicians from around the world must collaborate if we are to make more rapid progress in controlling the hundreds of unique diseases we call cancer. I serve as a member of the scientific advisory board of the Eurocan Platform, a translational research consortium of 28 European cancer centers funded by a large grant from the European Commission. We met in Heidelberg in October to review the progress of this initiative led by Dr. Ulrik Ringborg of the Karolinska Cancer Institute in Stockholm.
The Eurocan Platform brings together basic scientists, clinical oncologists, epidemiologists, and health outcomes researchers from 28 centers across Europe to develop novel translational research trials and population-based cohort studies that enable sharing of data, biospecimens, and technologies among all the platform members. I also chair the scientific advisory board of the WIN (Worldwide Innovative Networking) Consortium, a global consortium based at Institut Gustave Roussy in France and comprised of major cancer centers in Europe, Asia, India, the Middle East, and the U.S., as well as technology companies, pharmaceutical companies, and even health care payers.
The WIN Symposium, held in Paris each year, is unique among cancer meetings in that participants from each of these sectors come together to discuss how their collaboration can accelerate progress against cancer. WIN has launched its first major clinical trial, WINTHER, a global study that attempts to match cancer treatment to the molecular profile of each patient’s tumor based on mutational analysis and differential gene expression between tumor and normal tissue. WINTHER is funded by a major grant from the European Union, as well as by philanthropy and financial contributions from pharma and technology partners.
ACT-China, Eurocan Platform, and the WIN Consortium each represent a novel approach to addressing the global burden of cancer. Conducting global clinical trials, building relationships across regions of the world, and sharing data are the common themes that link these activities. It is clear that the global connection has never been more necessary or more possible than it is today, and I hope that in my role as ASCO CMO, I can help to facilitate such connections in the years ahead.