Office of the Vice President for Global Communications

Monday, April 12, 2010

U-M gets $63 million NIH grant for SWOG
cancer trials network

Noting that the organization’s research “has touched the lives of virtually every adult cancer patient in this nation,” the National Cancer Institute (NCI) has renewed the Southwest Oncology Group’s (SWOG) operating grants for six years, with a total funding package over that period expected to exceed $120 million.

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The principal grant, $63 million, will be administered by U-M, and is the largest single research award ever to the Medical School. Most of the remainder of the NCI package will be distributed directly to the group’s member institutions.

The award was announced Friday by SWOG Executive Officer Dr. Anne Schott, associate professor of internal medicine, and U.S. Rep. John Dingell, D-Dearborn.

“I am happy to say this is the largest research grant in the history of the University of Michigan Medical School,” says Dingell, who joined U-M faculty and other cancer researchers in announcing the grant. “This grant is a tribute to the exemplary work of the people that make Michigan a leading institution. The Southwest Oncology Group’s research saves mothers, fathers, sons and daughters, and we all benefit from them getting additional investment to do more of their fine work.”

SWOG, which is headquartered at U-M, is a clinical research cooperative group that designs and conducts large-scale trials of new cancer treatments and prevention regimens. Its network of almost 5,000 affiliated researchers and more than 500 institutions, including 19 of the NCI-designated cancer centers, extends across the United States and into several other countries.

“We’re proud to be first among the 10 NCI cooperative groups to embrace — and to be funded for — comparative effectiveness research as part of our mission,” says SWOG Group Chair Dr. Laurence Baker, referring to recent group initiatives to develop more formal methods of identifying which studies will have the greatest clinical benefit.  Baker is a professor of internal medicine and pharmacology at the Medical School.

The award supports SWOG’s Ann Arbor headquarters, its operations office in San Antonio and its statistical center in Seattle. But the majority of the funds go to member institutions nationwide, helping them defray the cost of bringing patients into clinical trials and supporting investigators leading those trials. Of the $63 million being administered by SWOG over six years about $15 million will stay at U-M in the form of salary support and indirect costs recouped.

“While the funding numbers are impressive, they don’t tell the whole story,” says Medical School Dean Dr. James Woolliscroft. “The U-M Medical School also gains enormously from serving as home to SWOG in terms of recognition and enhanced opportunities for our faculty to influence the direction of cancer research on a national level.”

Within Michigan some 1,500 patients currently take part in SWOG trials of new cancer treatments at 41 sites around the state, including U-M’s Comprehensive Cancer Center, the Barabara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute in Detroit and the Grand Rapids Community Clinical Oncology Program’s member hospitals. 

Support to the university for SWOG’s research has totaled more than $200 million from all sources since the group’s relocation to Ann Arbor in 2005, when Baker was named group chair. Approximately 70 Medical School faculty members are actively involved in SWOG trials, including 10 who serve in leadership positions within the organization.

The NCI committee that reviewed SWOG’s grant application praised the group’s “outstanding record of productivity,” citing the more than 300 peer-reviewed publications that document SWOG trial results during the previous five-year grant cycle.

The Southwest Oncology Group was founded in 1956 and has been primarily supported since that time by the NCI, one of the National Institutes of Health. At any given time SWOG has roughly 100 clinical trials under way and is following more than 30,000 participating patients.