A General Session to Remember: NCI Director Monica Bertagnolli Delivers First Public Speech, ECOG-ACRIN Honors Two Esteemed Colleagues

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A General Session to Remember: NCI Director Monica Bertagnolli Delivers First Public Speech, ECOG-ACRIN Honors Two Esteemed Colleagues

Two doctors at podium

While the General Session is always the plenary highlight of each ECOG-ACRIN Group Meeting, the 10th Anniversary General Session was particularly noteworthy. Group leaders held the session in person on Thursday, October 27, 2022, from 5:30 - 7:30 PM at the Renaissance Washington, DC Downtown Hotel. The program featured reflections on the 10th Anniversary of the ECOG-ACRIN Cancer Research Group (ECOG-ACRIN); the 2022 Young Investigator Awardee Lecture by Jennifer R. Eads, MD (University of Pennsylvania); and the presentation of compelling new research results in leukemia. Yet some of the most memorable moments featured three individuals who have been key participants and collaborators in ECOG-ACRIN’s research over the years.

Monica Bertagnolli Delivers Keynote Address

General Session attendees were fortunate to hear from Monica M. Bertagnolli, MD, the newly appointed director of the National Cancer Institute (NCI). Her health policy messages carry relevance across the cancer community. Dr. Bertagnolli is the first cooperative group chair and the first woman to lead the NCI.

The outpouring of support for Dr. Bertagnolli’s appointment recognizes her commitment to improving all aspects of a cancer patient’s experience. She is remarkable for the strength of her leadership, deep understanding, and warmth of concern for cancer patients.

Dr. Bertagnolli highlighted the central role clinical trials will play in her agenda at the NCI. She also described President Biden’s push to create new possibilities for cancer research. Finally, she stated that NCI would modernize clinical trials and double patient accrual under her stewardship.

“We will work together to reinvent how we approach, design, and conduct clinical trials, and report results. Doing so will increase the efficiency and speed of the clinical trials process, ultimately making important new treatments available to cancer patients much faster,” said Dr. Bertagnolli.

She began her new position on October 3 after stepping down as chair of the Alliance for Clinical Trials in Oncology (Alliance). Alliance, like ECOG-ACRIN, is one of six NCI National Clinical Trials Network Groups (also known as cooperative groups).

A video recording of her talk appears below.

ECOG-ACRIN Honors Mary Lou Smith

ECOG-ACRIN recognized Mary Lou Smith, JD, MBA, as a leader in the organization who amplifies the patient voice at all stages of the clinical research process. Ms. Smith chairs the ECOG-ACRIN Cancer Research Advocates Committee, which she co-founded in 2005 and has expanded recently to include 26 members.

Under Ms. Smith’s direction, these individuals—all cancer survivors and caregivers—are highly active in the ECOG-ACRIN scientific committees. They advise research teams during trial design, protocol and informed consent document review, trial implementation, and results reporting. Learn more about the committee here.

A breast cancer and ovarian cancer survivor, Ms. Smith is co-founder and president of the Research Advocacy Network (RAN). This organization advances patient-focused cancer research by fostering interaction among advocates, researchers, and related organizations. Using focus groups and surveys, RAN gathers information about patients' experiences with and preferences for various treatments. In this way, RAN helps researchers better understand the tradeoffs patients make between benefits and side effects.

In addition to overseeing research advocacy in ECOG-ACRIN, Ms. Smith is a member of the Executive Committee, Executive Review Committee, and the Breast Cancer Committee. She also co-chairs the NCORP Community Advisory Committee.

A video highlighting the influence and contribution of ECOG-ACRIN’s patient advocates appears in the News in Brief section of this newsletter.

ECOG-ACRIN Honors Worta McCaskill-Stevens

Worta McCaskill-Stevens, MD, MS, was celebrated by ECOG-ACRIN for advancing cancer prevention, screening, and treatment, and for reducing cancer disparities. Dr. McCaskill-Stevens is a medical oncologist and chief of the Community Oncology and Prevention Trials Research Group at the National Cancer Institute (NCI). Her Group houses the NCI Community Oncology Research Program (NCORP), a community-based clinical trials network launched in 2014.

As the founding NCORP Director, she oversees activities that support and encourage participation in NCI-approved research by physicians, nurses, and other research personnel in community hospitals. The program spans cancer treatment, prevention, screening, cancer control, and cancer care delivery studies.

Seven colleagues shared remarks praising Dr. McCaskill-Stevens, including Dr. Bertagnolli and Mary Lou Smith, as well as Nancy Davidson, MD, George Sledge Jr., MD, Lynne Wagner, PhD, Etta Pisano, MD, and Edith Mitchell, MD.

“Through her leadership, the NCI Community Oncology Research Program has become an important force for increasing enrollment of minority groups in NCI-sponsored trials, and for breast cancer research in particular, we would not have made nearly as much progress without Worta’s contributions and leadership,” said Dr. Bertagnolli.

The speakers highlighted significant contributions to NCI-sponsored research. For example, Dr. McCaskill-Stevens was program director for the STAR Trial or Study of Tamoxifen and Raloxifene for the Prevention of Breast Cancer in Postmenopausal Women. Notably, she led the innovative and ultimately successful efforts to double the participation of racial and ethnic minority women in STAR compared to similar trials (McCaskill-Stevens W, Clin Trials, 2013). Speakers also noted multiple contributions during her tenure overseeing breast cancer prevention research with the Community Clinical Oncology Program, a precursor to NCORP.

Prior to joining NCI, Dr. McCaskill-Stevens was co-director of the Breast Care and Research Center at the Indiana University Cancer Center. She has received numerous honors and awards. Notably, she received the 2016 American Association for Cancer Research Jane Cooke Wright Memorial Lectureship, which recognizes an outstanding scientist who has made meritorious contributions to the field of cancer research and who has, through leadership or by example, furthered the advancement of minority investigators in cancer research.

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