Much of what we know about how to treat patients today is based on the results from clinical trials carried out in the past. Similarly the precision cancer medicine of the future is being developed through the clinical trials of today. Clinical research is hard and it “takes a village” of investigators of all types (physicians, scientists, nurses, pharmacists, statisticians, regulatory experts, and so many more) to make it happen. It takes a complex but integrated infrastructure of scientific review and process to make sure that trials are of the highest quality and are conducted in an ethical, safe, and efficient fashion. It takes a culture of scientific discovery to identify the most important questions and directions that are worthy of bringing to people.
Here at University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute (UPCI) and UPMC CancerCenter dozens of individuals donate their time and talent to this intricate system of clinical trial design, execution, and oversight. This month the team will lose one such volunteer as Clinical Professor of Medicine, Dr. Ronald Stoller, steps down after 12 years of service as a member of the UPCI Protocol Review Committee. An expert clinician with a special interest in early phase clinical trials and gastrointestinal malignancies, Ron has been a mainstay of our scientific review process and we thank him for his countless protocol reviews and many years of wisdom. Fortunately he will continue to care for cancer patients and participate in the activities of the Cancer Therapeutics Program of UPCI.
Dr. Stoller exemplifies the volunteerism that is intrinsic to advancing clinical care by advancing clinical research. At UPCI dozens of individuals help to evaluate clinical trials as part of our Protocol Review Committees (PRC) that are so ably led by PRC Chairs, Drs. Leonard Appleman, Andrew Laman, and Lyn Robertson and PRC Vice-Chairs, Drs. Shannon Puhalla and Michael Boyiadzis. Members of our Data Safety and Monitoring Committee, led by Chair Dr. Herbert Zeh, Vice-Chair James Ohr, and Community Vice-Chair Barry Lembersky, constantly monitor ongoing clinical trials to ensure that patient safety is first and foremost in our thinking. Of course all of our work is done in concert with the Institutional Review Board of the University of Pittsburgh which also relies on some of our members to provide cancer-specific expertise. And none of this would be possible without exceptional administrative support which is provided by Brandon Kaukus, the corresponding secretary for these critical groups. We thank all of them for their dedication, leadership and service.
Ultimately our clinical trials mission is about the patients that we serve. In 2014, 1487 brave and selfless individuals agreed to participate in interventional cancer clinical trials through UPCI. Together with their physicians, they were convinced that participation in a trial represented the best possible care for their personal situation and were willing to allow all of us to learn something new along the way to help those who will follow in their footsteps. They are truly at the center of our “village” of volunteers, helping us to move ever closer to a world without cancer. All of us owe them our profound gratitude.