Seed Corn

Seed Corn

George W. Sledge, MD, FASCO

Aug 16, 2010

One of the pleasures of serving as your president is the opportunity to observe the wide array of activities our Society supports. Our Society is so broad in its interests that I frequently feel like a tourist who, coming around the corner, runs into something delightful and unexpected. Many of these activities involve our “seed corn” efforts. As a Society, we believe that it is not enough to look after this year’s harvests, be they in the scientific or practice arenas. We play an important if under-recognized role in the development of the next generation of cancer practitioners and researchers.

Through our grants program, The ASCO Cancer Foundation supports young researchers with an interest in cancer research. These grants include Young Investigator Awards (YIAs) and Career Development Awards (CDAs). Many of the brightest minds in the cancer research field got their start through these awards. One of the early award recipients for the YIA, Dr. Nancy Davidson, later became President of ASCO. These awards are supported through many sources: non-profit foundations, our friends in the pharmaceutical industry, and the ASCO membership. I am proud to say that the members of the Board of Directors (of both the Society and the Foundation), as well as our Cancer Research Committee and Clinical Practice Committee, have independently supported these awards with their personal contributions.

We also play an important role in the education of fellows, through our Professional Development Committee (ably led by Dr. Barbara McAneny), our ASCO-SEP materials, our Medical Oncology In-Training Examination, our support for training program directors, and our fellow-specific programs at the ASCO Annual Meeting.

Slightly later in the career path, we have created the ASCO Leadership Development Program (currently led by my colleague Dr. Patrick Loehrer), which picks 12 of our most promising young members and puts them through a leadership “boot camp” in which they learn about both our Society and about the attributes of effective leaders. Completion of this year-long program results in appointment to one of our ASCO committees, and though this program is only in its second year I am confident that it will not be too long before its graduates play an important role in leading our Society. Current members of the LDP come from a wide array of backgrounds, from both community practice and academia.

In collaboration with our sister society, the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR), we run an annual Clinical Methods Workshop, the so-called “Vail Course.” The Vail Course may be my favorite among the “seed corn” activities. Each year it brings together 100 fellows and junior faculty for an intensive week-long course in clinical trials methodology. The faculty, largely drawn from the two societies, is world-class. The education is partly didactic, with wonderful lectures on every aspect of trial development and conduct, but the real work is the actual development of clinical protocols. The participants come with a trial concept, and by the end of the week have a fully developed protocol, with aggressive coaching by superb clinical researchers and biostatisticians. It is incredibly well-spent money: trial writing is an arcane art, and clinical trials are the DNA of our future cancer therapeutics. Learning to do it right early on in one’s career has personal benefits for the investigators, but huge societal benefits as well. I only wish the Vail Course had been around when I was coming up through the ranks.

The real delight of the Vail Course was the opportunity to interact with the fellows and junior faculty. They are great: hardworking, clever, and dedicated to making the world a better place. Our future clinical trials will be in great hands.


The ideas and opinions expressed on the ASCO Connection Blogs do not necessarily reflect those of ASCO. None of the information posted on is intended as medical, legal, or business advice, or advice about reimbursement for health care services. The mention of any product, service, company, therapy or physician practice on does not constitute an endorsement of any kind by ASCO. ASCO assumes no responsibility for any injury or damage to persons or property arising out of or related to any use of the material contained in, posted on, or linked to this site, or any errors or omissions.

Back to Top