ACRIN, ECOG Merge Clinical Cancer Research Programs
imageThe American College of Radiology’s Imaging Network (ACRIN) and the Eastern Cooperative Oncology Group (ECOG), National Cancer Institute (NCI) Clinical Trials Cooperative Group members late last week agreed to merge their clinical cancer research programs, forming an alliance that will combine their complementary strengths. The new organization will include three areas of research emphasis: early detection and diagnosis of cancer; biomarker-driven Phase II and Phase III therapeutic studies for multiple cancer types and stages; and genetic, molecular, and imaging marker research to predict and monitor treatment response. As leading research organizations, ECOG and ACRIN have separately brought to the table individual programs that have significantly contributed to improved clinical care. The new alliance will bring together the organizations’ unique capabilities to build a program with expanded scientific scope and depth of expertise. ECOG has strengths in performing large-scale trials with molecular endpoints in major diseases; the results of these studies have changed the treatment of cancer patients, and helped to individualize that therapy. ACRIN’s clinical trials encompass the full range of medical imaging research, from landmark cancer screening trials to early phase trials evaluating imaging biomarkers and novel imaging technologies.  While maintaining these areas of separate expertise, the alliance will press the tailoring of therapy to the individual patient’s tumor, and accelerate the integration of biological advances into clinical practice. “This partnership offers the research community a new sphere of engagement,” says ECOG Chair Robert L. Comis, MD. “It will greatly enhance our position in the public and private sectors to perform biomarker-driven studies and develop more innovative clinical trial designs.” He adds that ACRIN has an “exceptional” imaging research program and IT infrastructure that can be applied to compile and store not only radiologic images, but relevant laboratory-based images as well. As such, ECOG’s modality and disease committees will, under the new arrangement, have the opportunity to become involved in the development of cutting-edge early detection and diagnostic studies, and ACRIN investigators will benefit from being fully integrated into its therapeutically oriented programs.
ACRIN Network Chair Mitchell D. Schnall, MD, PhD, concurs, noting that the “ECOG partnership opportunity” will foster the development of a unique multidisciplinary organization positioned to study the entire cancer care path, from early detection through the management of advanced disease. “We will leverage the complementary scientific expertise of each group” to form “multidisciplinary scientific committees to address each of the three emphasis areas for which there will be immediate opportunities for interaction and collaboration,” Schnall asserts. “The integration of ECOG and ACRIN patient advocacy and clinical research associate committees will bring together an impressive knowledge base representing the patient perspective and participant recruitment best practices – a significant support for getting the research done.”  Transition planning is underway, and group leaders are developing the business, administrative, and scientific structures. The new organization will sustain its research portfolio with public and private support. Relative to public funding, the NCI announced last November that it will reorganize its Cooperative Group program to support up to four adult cooperative groups and will issue a new Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA) in the spring of 2012; the new organization will respond on behalf of ECOG and ACRIN.