ASCO Turns Attention to Community Researchers With Community Research Forum

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Nicholas J.Robert, MD

We hope that the more problems we can solve, the more patients can be treated on these important clinical trials.

—Nicholas J.Robert, MD

The implementation of clinical trials and quality research programs by community-based investigators and research staff is one of the most effective weapons available in the fight against cancer. The ASCO Community Research Forum was designed in support of this mission and to aid these professionals in navigating and overcoming the challenges that are unique to community-based research.

“The Community Research Forum is a group that has been established to think critically about the problems and challenges to doing clinical cancer research in the community setting, identify those problems, and, with the support of ASCO staff, help to solve those problems,” said Nicholas J. Robert, MD, Chair of the Community Research Forum subcommittee and a medical oncologist with Virginia Cancer Specialists, Fairfax, Virginia.

Identifying and Solving Problems

The idea for the Community Research Forum was conceived in the ASCO Board of Directors’ Clinical Trials Strategic Plan of 2010, which defined ASCO’s role in supporting clinical investigators and increasing their participation in cancer clinical trials. In response, ASCO’s Cancer Research Committee convened a Subcommittee in December 2010 to implement the Community Research Forum as a solution-oriented venue for community research sites.

The Community Research Forum’s objectives include convening community-based research to identify challenges to conducting research, developing solution-oriented projects to address these challenges, and helping shape ASCO programs and policies to better support members engaged in community research.

A major part of that mission is completed each year with an annual meeting used to discuss known problems and propose solutions to common challenges. The Community Research Forum has held two annual meetings to date with its next planned for fall 2014. The meeting is held at ASCO headquarters and is open to anyone doing research in the community setting, including physician investigators and research staff.

Valuable Assessment Tools

Based on the information coming out of each annual meeting, the Community Research Forum Subcommittee selects topic areas and projects that it feels can provide solutions to common issues. In the 2 years since its inception, the Forum has already developed and is testing two helpful new tools.

The first tool developed by the Forum is the ASCO Clinical Research Quality Assessment Tool. Expected to be available in spring 2014, this tool is designed to help community-based research sites exceed the minimum standards of conducting clinical research. It provides an overview of ASCO recommendations for the important components of an internal quality assessment program and a checklist to help sites conduct an assessment of whether their program includes these important components.

“This tool is something that researchers can use to see if their program measures up, to identify any deficiencies,” Dr. Robert said. “This will allow us to really raise the bar in terms of quality programs doing community research.”

The second tool in development is the ASCO Clinical Trial Workload Assessment Tool, which has been designed to help research sites assess staff workload, based on the complexity of research protocols and the number of patients assigned to staff. This tool is expected to be available in summer 2014.

“At a community cancer center the amount of funding to support research is limited, so it is important to know that you have the right amount of people, that is enough, but not too many,” Dr. Robert said. “This tool has real practical value and speaks to the needs of those doing community research.”

This tool is currently being tested in about 50 community-based programs to determine its utility and to collect data on clinical trial workload benchmarks for community-based research programs. Findings from the project, expected in early 2014, will help to further shape the tool before it is made available to the public.

“So far we have been able to pick two areas and have had success in terms of identifying solutions,” Dr. Robert said. “We hope that the more problems we can solve, the more patients can be treated on these important clinical trials.”

To find out more about the Community Research Forum, visit ASCO online at or contact Eden Mesfin at or Patricia Hurley at

© 2014. American Society of Clinical Oncology. All rights reserved.