SPOREs Move to Strengthen Program, Vision
Since their creation in 1992, NCI's Specialized Programs of Research Excellence (SPOREs) have been a cornerstone of the Institute's efforts to promote interdisciplinary cancer research focused on a specific organ site. The SPORE program was designed to enable the rapid and efficient movement of basic scientific findings into clinical settings. Now a flourishing program, there are 62 SPOREs, studying 14 organ sites, based almost exclusively at NCI-designated Cancer Centers, where they comprise an important part of the centers' research programs.
My goal since arriving at NCI has been to continue to build and strengthen this vital program, an objective that has been further solidified by the importance placed on the SPOREs in recent reports from the Translational Research Working Group (TRWG) and NCI-designated Cancer Center directors. In keeping with that goal, the SPORE program is about to undergo some changes that NCI leadership believes will enhance its role in promoting interdisciplinary translational research.
The central change is the move of the SPORE program from the Organ Systems Branch in the Office of Centers, Training and Resources to the Division of Cancer Treatment and Diagnosis (DCTD). As I explained last week during meetings of the Clinical Trials Advisory Committee and the National Cancer Advisory Board, this change was prompted, in part, by the departure of Dr. Jorge Gomez, who has ably led the SPORE program for 12 years. Dr. Gomez is moving to NIH's Fogarty International Center, where he will lead NCI's effort to enhance U.S. global research and clinical trial participation in Central and South America. NCI is extremely grateful for Dr. Gomez's distinguished service to the SPORE program and for making it a central component of NCI's translational research portfolio.
This leadership change spurred NCI leadership to more closely consider the SPORE program's future direction, and we concluded that moving the program to DCTD would present an ideal opportunity for it to gain greater prominence and integration within NCI's translational research and laboratory science portfolio. Taking this step also directly responds to the TRWG recommendation to improve coordination and collaboration of translational research across NCI.
DCTD, under the direction of Dr. James Doroshow, is focused on new visions, new ideas, and scientific growth that will be vital to our ability to keep pace with the changes necessary to deliver cutting-edge medical research to patients. Having a program like the SPOREs, which has been such a leader in translational science, included in these endeavors will clearly elevate its role moving forward. NCI's investment in the SPORE program will be significantly enhanced and the SPORE program will assume an even greater position of leadership in NCI's translational portfolio.
Since joining NCI, I have worked directly with principal investigators (PIs) from the SPOREs to carefully make adjustments that continue the growth and improve the structure of the program. As part of that effort, we have created a SPORE PI executive committee, chaired by Dr. John Minna from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center. I meet with this committee by conference call almost once a month. From those discussions, it's clear the committee believes that the SPOREs can adapt to the new era of highly targeted and personalized cancer care and become even more relevant to the challenges facing NCI. I couldn't agree more.
Among the many benefits of this change is an opportunity for significant infrastructure cost savings, an important advantage in this time of tight budgets. That said, change is never as easy as we expect or hope. But difficulty is never a reason to avoid change, particularly one so important to the future of NCI. NCI leadership strongly believes this transition can only benefit the SPORE program and, ultimately, patients and their families, who rightfully expect the strongest effort possible to move our most promising scientific advances into clinical testing.
Dr. John E. Niederhuber