The National Cancer Institute (NCI) awarded a 5-year, $1.125 million grant to continue an innovative and unique oncology training program for newly minted physicians developed and overseen by Dr. Daniel Von Hoff, distinguished professor and physician-in-chief at the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen).

Convened by the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) and the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) — the world’s leading cancer professional organizations — Dr. Von Hoff’s Methods in Clinical Cancer Research Workshop is a one-week boot camp for new oncologists, which has been conducted each summer for the past 21 years.

The program’s nearly 2,100 graduates now populate leading cancer centers throughout the nation.

The workshop draws on the expertise of 40 of the nation’s leading oncologists, patient advocates and biostatisticians to provide intensive cancer care instruction each summer to 100 students — 75 of whom are second- and third year post-doctoral oncology fellows, and 25 are new faculty members at clinical centers.

“Through a rigorous process, we select doctors who appear to have promise. It’s a big deal. It’s rough. It’s one of the most effective courses ever,” said Dr. Von Hoff, who also is professor of medicine at Mayo Clinic, chief scientific officer for the HonorHealth Research Institute, and past director of the Arizona Cancer Center.

He also is a past board member and president of AACR, a Fellow of the AACR, and recipient of the distinguished 1997 AACR Richard and Hinda Rosenthal Memorial Award. In addition, he is a past board member of ASCO and winner of its prestigious David A. Karnofsky Memorial Award for outstanding contributions to patient care and treatment.

The course teaches the essentials of effective clinical trial design for therapeutic interventions in the treatment of all cancers.

Working around the clock, each summer’s class is divided into 12 groups.  Each student must write a protocol for a new cancer clinical trial of sufficient quality to pass an Institutional Review Board, a critical step in receiving FDA approval to pursue such a study. Clinical trials are carefully controlled research studies that evaluate promising new drugs, while giving patients access to potentially lifesaving therapeutics.

One of the first to take the Methods course when it began in 1996 is Dr. Ramesh K. Ramanathan, Professor of Medicine at Mayo Clinic with a joint appointment at TGen; he is now a gastrointestinal cancer specialist involved in early drug development at Mayo Clinic in Arizona: “This program helped me start a career in academic medicine and prepare me for the exacting work required to design and execute clinical trials that will make a substantial difference in the lives of our patients.”

Dr. Glen Weiss, a graduate of the 2006 Methods workshop and a Clinical Associate Professor at TGen, is now the director of all Phase I and II clinical trials at Cancer Treatment Centers of America at Western Regional Medical Center near Phoenix: “This unique training course, under the meticulous watch of Dr. Von Hoff, helped me understand how to design top-flight cancer clinical trials, demanding enough to be approved by the nation’s leading oncology experts. It was an invaluable experience.”

Poor design and conduct of a clinical trial can make it impossible for a study to provide definitive answers about the effectiveness of a new approach. They also can lead to the abandonment of promising avenues of research, even those based on sound basic scientific work, as well as to delays in the introduction of new treatments into the practice of oncology.

“On behalf of the American Association for Cancer Research, I would like to thank Dr. Von Hoff for conceptualizing the idea for this course and for his tireless commitment to securing continued financial support for the Methods in Clinical Cancer Research Workshop,” said Margaret Foti, PhD, MD (hc), CEO of the AACR. “The Workshop has a proven track record of training early-career clinical researchers who have gone on to become world-renowned leaders in clinical trial design and conduct. We are thrilled to be able to continue this rich tradition, which will increase the number of therapeutic interventions that can be tested and made available in a timely manner to improve the care and treatment of cancer patients worldwide.”

AACR and ASCO have helped design the Methods workshop to increase the reliability and effectiveness of clinical trials by:

•    Introducing principles of good clinical trial design, providing the tools needed to conduct studies that yield clear results and have the potential to impact patient care.
•    Exposing the full spectrum of challenges in clinical research — including patients’ and their families’ perspectives — through surgery, radiotherapy, conventional and investigational agents, multidisciplinary treatment regimens, multimodality and combination treatments and the integration of biomarkers in clinical trials.
•    Developing a cadre of well-trained, experienced clinical researchers whose expertise will foster better clinical trial design and hasten the introduction of improved approaches for cancer therapy and prevention into everyday medical practice and patient care.