SPOREs: A Force in Translational Research
One of the central components of NCI's efforts to move new interventions to patients more quickly is the Specialized Programs of Research Excellence (SPOREs). The SPOREs program is a true success story. When the program was launched in 1992, there were 8 SPOREs for 3 cancer sites; there are now 61 SPOREs for 14 cancer sites. In 1995, there were 3 SPORE-operated clinical trials; in 2004, there are 120.
The 12th SPOREs Investigators' Workshop closed today in Baltimore; it demonstrated that SPOREs have become models of collaboration. Nearly every SPORE is part of an inter-SPORE network that is jointly conducting research and clinical trials. The six lung cancer SPOREs, working with some industry groups, for example, are conducting trials investigating EFGR inhibitors and novel Hedgehog pathway inhibitors. The 10 breast cancer SPOREs are working with the American College of Radiology Imaging Network and the Cancer and Leukemia Group B on a phase III, multicenter breast cancer therapy trial using advanced technologies like MRI and genomic and proteomic analyses to develop molecular characterizations of breast cancer tumors and measure tumor response to neoadjuvant therapy.
The SPOREs program also recently completed work on another groundbreaking activity. Two SPORE-member workgroups reviewed the research pipeline for two fertile areas of translational research: molecular targets and biomarkers. This review allowed NCI leaders to assess the status of the research in these two areas and will help us identify the best opportunities for advancing the most promising biomarkers and molecular targets.In another sign of SPOREs' impressive evolution, 70 patient advocates attended this year's workshop as part of an innovative SPOREs initiative, the Patient Advocate/Research Team (PART) program, which has helped build a bridge between SPOREs researchers and patients. In many cases, PART participants go well beyond the traditional patient advocacy role, involving themselves in SPOREs' operational aspects by reviewing small seed grants that SPOREs may wish to fund or facilitating discussions between SPOREs and national organizations or industry on possible collaborations.
"The SPOREs' principal investigators are serious about bringing advocates into the program," says Jim Williams, a 13-year prostate cancer survivor, board member of the Intercultural Cancer Council, and a member of the PART at the Baylor University prostate cancer SPORE. "We can really bring the patient's viewpoint to the trials." Advocates like Jim are to be commended for their commitment to improving cancer care for all patients.
I also came away from the SPOREs workshop with an important reaffirmation of one of my most sincere beliefs: The intellectual capital of the research force we have assembled is unsurpassed in the history of cancer research. There are, of course, still challenges that must be addressed, from intellectual property to regulatory issues. But these are surmountable challenges that we are working to address. In the end, though, with programs like SPOREs, it is clear to me that we are on an ideal trajectory for success, allowing for exponential progress during a time of great promise and hope.
Dr. Andrew C. von Eschenbach