October, as you’ve likely noticed from the outburst of pink, is Breast Cancer Awareness Month- but did you know that it’s also Liver Cancer Awareness Month? And we’ll shortly head into November, also known as the awareness month for pancreatic cancer, stomach cancer, lung cancer, carcinoid cancer, and cancer caregivers. Cervical cancer, esophageal cancer, head and neck cancer – each of these cancers, and more, have an awareness month to bring attention to the need for the development of safer and more effective therapies.

Recently, WCG convened the first meeting of its WCG Oncology Advisory Board. As part of the overall WCG Oncology program, our expert Board members provide their insight, experience, and advice to assist us in expanding and refining the best practices for cancer research review strategy.

It may seem like an odd thing, for an institutional review board (IRB) to talk about having a strategy. The role of an IRB seems pretty well-defined: a protocol gets submitted, reviewed, and approved (or not). But medicine – and oncology in particular – is changing with amazing speed. All of the advances in the way physicians treat cancer today were preceded by clinical research studies in the last decade. Trials being conducted now are testing new therapies and technologies that may be introduced five to ten years in the future. We understand that the IRBs reviewing complex clinical protocols in oncology must not only be fluent in today’s standard of care, but must fully understand the science that will drive tomorrow’s cancer care. With this additional level of comprehension and focus, WCG Oncology provides protocol reviews that can accurately assess the potential risks and benefits of studies of new therapies.

To keep ahead of this rapidly-changing field, comprehensive strategy that may include preparation of educational curriculums for Board members, continual development and updating of a consultant pool with specific oncology expertise and creating collaborative systems to optimize reviews (for example, collaboration between the IRB and Institutional Biosafety Committee for studies involving recombinant DNA-based therapies).

Having an IRB panel that specializes in the review of cancer research is important – but it’s just a start. Having a comprehensive program in place which ensures that those panel members are fully briefed on the latest developments will ensure that our organization continues to provide optimal and educated protocol reviews. That is what really sets the WCG ethical review organization apart.