Junior investigators: Get engaged in the Alliance for Clinical Trials in Oncology

For many clinical investigators, participating in the Alliance for Clinical Trials in Oncology (Alliance) as a study chair or principal investigator has been a contributing factor to a successful academic career. The success of the Alliance and the cooperative groups in the National Cancer Institute’s National Clinical Trials Network is dependent on the cooperative group’s ability to help recruit and train the next generation of clinical researchers. The network includes NRG (formerly National Surgical Bowel and Bladder Project and Radiation Therapy Oncology Group and Gynecologic Oncology Group); SWOG (Southwest Oncology Group); ECOG-ACRIN (the American College of Radiology Imaging Network and the Eastern Cooperative Oncology Group); and Children’s Oncology Group (COG).

The Alliance holds two group meetings each year as an opportunity for the investigators to meet and discuss new trial ideas, new concepts in development, and active open trials and amendments to open trials. This year, the group meetings will take place in Chicago, May 10–13 and November 2–4. Historically, the Alliance hosted junior investigator sessions at its biannual group meetings to provide an opportunity for focused lectures on career development and small group discussion. The Alliance for Clinical Trials in Oncology Foundation also attracts the interest of the next generation of clinical researchers by sponsoring two annual scholar awards, which are two-year, non-renewable cancer research grants of $40,000 to support the research activities of junior faculty at Alliance institutions. A call for applications for these awards is issued in the spring, and applications are due in August.

Even with these recruitment efforts, significant barriers inhibit the ability of junior investigators to participate in cooperative group activities. Typically, junior investigators are recruited from their home institutions into the Alliance ranks and mentored by senior committee members. However, without this connection, it can be challenging for these young researchers to get involved or share their ideas with Alliance leadership and chairs of the Alliance disease site committees. The reduction in funding for cooperative groups has decreased opportunities for face-to-face interactions during committee meetings. Navigating the bureaucracy and regulatory requirements that must be met to translate an idea into an actual proposal can be challenging for even experienced investigators.

YIC

In November 2016, the Alliance formed a Young Investigator Committee (YIC) with the goal of breaking down the barriers that impede junior investigators from participating in Alliance programs. Specifically, the Alliance plans to pair each young investigator with a senior member of the disease site/modality committee of interest to the junior researcher. The senior investigator will serve as a mentor and facilitate the mentee’s involvement in the group.

A second major initiative of the YIC is the creation of a New Investigator Course, which will take place during the Alliance’s Spring Group Meeting in May. The Alliance will provide funding for approximately 30 new investigators to attend this meeting. The goal is to have one-hour workshops interspersed throughout the meeting to discuss trial ideas and to learn about the development of a clinical trial. Proposed topics include the following:

Strategies for developing a concept and getting it through the process to become an activated study (includes nuts-and-bolts issues such as the responsibilities of a study chair)

  • Clinical trials design in 2017
  • Pragmatic trials
  • Regulatory affairs, working with study statisticians and data management
  • Determining the cost of a trial, procuring funding and study contracts
  • Implementation of clinical trials in a community practice setting

Our goal for the New Investigator Course is to build a robust network of junior investigators to participate in and eventually develop and lead Alliance trials.

If you have any questions about the YIC or would like more information about the New Investigator Course, contact Geoffrey Uy, MD (guy@wustl.edu), or Denise Collins-Brennan, treasurer, Alliance for Clinical Trials in Oncology Foundation (dcollinsbrennan@partners.org).

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