Report on ASCO's Recent International Clinical Trials Workshop in Opatija, Croatia

Report on ASCO's Recent International Clinical Trials Workshop in Opatija, Croatia

International Perspectives

Aug 14, 2013

By Domen Ribnikar, MD



As a resident in medical oncology, I recently had the opportunity to participate in the International Clinical Trials Workshop (ICTW) organized by ASCO and the Croatian Oncology Society, which took place in Opatija, Croatia, June 12-13, 2013. This was the second ICTW meeting held in the Central Eastern European region; the first one took place in Cluj-Napoca, Romania, in 2011.

As I listened to the lectures, which were largely from the clinical research point of view, I realized more than ever that research work is important for clinical oncology, especially in East European countries where cancer-specific survivals are worse than in the Western world. We are well aware of the tremendous success of treating young patients with lymphoma and patients with germinal cell tumors, patients who were dying in the 1960s because there were no active drugs available. With the discovery and introduction of platinum derivatives and anthracyclines into routine clinical practice, these are now highly curable diseases, with five-year survival rates for both exceeding 90%. We could not have reached this success rate without extensive basic and translational research.

The main goal of ICTW is to educate and prepare young oncologists for their future research work in collaboration with a national or regional oncology society. The course content in Opatija included local and international regulatory issues, ethics, roles and responsibilities of the research team, patient accrual strategies, promoting clinical trials, trial design, and recommendations on publishing research findings.

Topics of interest



There were three topics at this great meeting that particularly impressed me. The first one was the lecture of Professor Ian Tannock, MD, FRCPC, PhD, from the Princess Margaret Hospital in Toronto, who had an excellent speech about reading the clinical oncology literature with a critical eye. This  is an important issue for young oncologists—to recognize and also learn from the mistakes of others.

Alexandru E. Eniu, MD, PhD, a clinical oncologist from the Cancer Institute Ion Chiricuta Cluj-Napoca in Romania, presented on the topic of building a successful oncology research team. He pointed out the importance of integrating young oncologists—who are eager for new knowledge and career challenges—early in the residency program as partners in clinical research.

Probably the most important issue that we learned was how to write the protocol of phase II and III clinical trials, which is a reflection of the trial design. I was happy to present the draft protocol of our working group that discussed an interesting randomized phase II trial comparing tyrosine-kinase inhibitor (TKI) therapy alone and TKI plus best supportive care as first-line treatment in patients with metastatic renal cell carcinoma.

Integrating young oncologists into the research team

My own perspective regarding achieving better cancer-specific survivals in East Europe is to integrate young oncologists who are motivated and interested in cancer research early in the residency program as partners in a research team. Apart from being active in regular clinical obligations, we need to be actively involved in the clinical research from the beginning of residency. I decided to be proactive in this strategy for modifying residency programs by having research be included in the program as an obligation under the supervision of our mentors. I believe the biggest problem in the Central-East European region is the organization of our training program, which does not include research or even sometimes discourages it.

Having in mind all the barriers and challenges to academic clinical research in Central-East Europe, it is of utmost importance that Professor Eduard Vrdoljak, MD, PhD, President of the Croatian Oncology Society and a past member of ASCO's International Affairs Committee, expressed his willingness to organize the second ICTW in East Europe in collaboration with the Central European Oncology Congress's annual educational event dedicated mostly to young oncologists in the region.

I would like to express my gratitude to the ASCO community for organizing clinical trials courses. ASCO enables young oncologists to access translational research and gives us the opportunity to network with academic researchers who give us additional enthusiasm and support. I am very grateful to Professor Tanja Čufer, MD, PhD, a clinical oncologist at the University Clinic Golnik in Slovenia and Past Chair of ASCO's International Affairs Committee, for encouraging me to get involved with cancer research and supporting me throughout the years.

Dr. Ribnikar is a Resident of Medical Oncology at the Institute of Oncology Ljubljana in Slovenia.


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ASCO International Affairs

Sep, 18 2013 2:53 PM

Thank you for your insights Dr. Ribnikar!

You may be interested to hear that other participants at the clinical trials workshop in Croatia also reported learning useful skills for conducting clinical trials.

82% of respondents to our course evaluation agreed that they felt more confident in their ability to write a protocol by the end of the course. Additionally, 91% said they understood better the regulations concerning clinical research.

We hope that all of the participants are able to implement what they learned in their work--more than two-thirds of respondents said they intend to!

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