I was first surprised, and then felt overwhelmingly honored to have been elected President of ISGIO for 2009. I am, first, proud to be a GI Oncologist and one of you. Our group is full of bright, energetic, focused scientist/clinicians who have made significant contributions to improving outcomes for GI cancer patients all over the world. In addition, I count many of the Society’s members and leaders as true, lifelong friends, making our annual meeting a joy on several levels. I hope you will block your busy schedules for our October 2009 meeting in Philadelphia, as we are developing yet another challenging and stimulating program for this fall.
When the International Society of Gastrointestinal Oncology was first conceived by Jaffer Ajani, I was skeptical. How was ISGIO going to be different from all the other meetings we attend? Was this just going to be more time commitment without progress? Could the group really be an international society, representing GI cancer issues around the world? As we all know, GI cancers have suffered greatly from a lack of effective advocacy. Far more people die of GI cancers than of breast cancer, yet we fall far behind in funding, in clinical trial accrual, and in progress. GI cancers do not discriminate; they affect both young and old, men and women nearly equally, and, of course, people of all races. The rates of GI cancers vary in different parts of the world, making colon cancer a western disease, gastric cancer an eastern disease, and hepatocellular cancer an Asian and African disease. With so much diversity, I wondered whether we should even be a single society.
Any initial misgivings I might have harbored have since been thoroughly allayed. Under the very effective leadership of Jaffer Ajani, Richard Goldberg, and Al B. Benson, ISGIO continually focused its mission; as a result, the Society is fast emerging as a positive force in the GI oncology community. First, these past presidents correctly recognized a rapidly growing need for GI cancer specialists and researchers. Using Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center as an example, we have expanded from two GI oncologists to five in a mere 2 years, and we will soon be looking for more. I know that your institutions are considering similar expansions in the field. Jaffer, Rich, and Al realized that we urgently need to train more clinical translational researchers and mentor junior faculty with an interest in GI cancers, and they saw that ISGIO could serve as a focal point for developing training and mentorship programs.
Cancer research is now a multinational, multidisciplinary field of study. Success requires an intimate knowledge of, not only the latest research in one’s own cancer center, but also in the rest of the world. It requires having a solid understanding of the pharmaceutical industry, of government regulations in different parts of the world, and of different practice patterns around the world. It requires knowing which agents are coming through the pipeline and the results of trials, even before they are published. It requires an up-to-date understanding of both state-of-the-art basic science and clinical literature. My predecessors realized that the mission of ISGIO and the needs for growth in GI cancer research are aligned.
To launch its professional development initiative, ISGIO added several mentorship sessions to its annual meeting, and these were very well received. These programs will continue at the 2009 meeting, and we encourage both senior and junior members to attend and take advantage of this opportunity. As more junior ISGIO members interact with senior leaders, collaborations are forming all over the world, and extensive networks are emerging composed of members of diverse backgrounds pursuing common interests and harnessing synergistic resources. Our senior members are indeed eager to work with energetic, focused researchers, and in exchange, they can offer the guidance, connections, and support so critical to advancing a successful, rewarding career in GI oncology.
For 2009, we are working on an even larger project designed to increase mentorship on an international scale. Our plan is simple—senior ISGIO members from the United States, Europe, and Asia will form a mentorship faculty. To start, the faculty will host three meetings—one each in Europe, Asia, and North America. The most promising junior scientists in GI oncology will be invited to the meeting in their region. Recognizing the importance of collaborations Recognizing the importance of collaborations between academics and industry, we would also encourage scientific leaders within the pharmaceutical industry to take part in these meetings. Some of the topics to be covered include:
- Regulatory differences around the world
- Global drug development strategies and barriers
- The role of cooperative groups in drug development
- Grant writing
- Interactions with industry: getting your Letter of Intent (LOI) approved
In addition, we feel the face-to-face interactions will be of great benefit. This will allow GI cancer experts from around the world to become more familiar with each other and their ideas, to facilitate international collaborations, and to speed global drug approvals. We also believe that this process will help identify the GI thought leaders of tomorrow, a critical need as the current group of GI oncology leaders becomes increasingly “senior.” By taking ISGIO mentorship “on the road,” we hope to identify those promising young researchers who have not been able to attend the meetings, and assist in their growth as clinician/scientists in GI oncology.
We hope we can count on your support in the Society’s efforts to make this mentorship project a reality. We will need the support of our academic institutions and our pharmaceutical partners to realize this goal. Let us know if you are interested in taking part in the effort, because it is important for us to gauge your support as we formalize our plans.
The International Society of Gastrointestinal Oncology is indeed different from every other society. By bringing together the leading clinician/scientists in the world, the GI oncology leaders of tomorrow, the GI cancer advocacy groups, and the global drug development communities, ISGIO is ideally positioned to spearhead the absolute imperative to improve GI cancer outcomes around the world. In the years that I have been a member of ISGIO, and certainly now as its president, I lost my skepticism. I see now the brilliance and foresight of those whom I follow. I am proud to carry the torch for ISGIO for 2009.