ANN ARBOR, Mich - 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 U-M based Southwest Oncology Group's operating grants for six years, with a total funding package over that period expected to exceed $120 million.
The principal grant, more than $63 million, will be administered by the University of Michigan, and is the largest single research award ever to the U-M Medical School. Most of the remainder of the NCI package will be distributed directly to the Group's member institutions.
The award was announced at a Friday press briefing by Group Executive Officer Anne F. Schott, M.D., and Michigan Congressman John Dingell. Schott is associate professor of internal medicine at U-M.
"I am happy to say this is the largest research grant in the history of the University of Michigan Medical School," said Dingell. "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."
The Southwest Oncology Group (SWOG) is a clinical research cooperative group that designs and conducts large-scale trials of new cancer treatments and prevention regimens. The Group's network of almost 5,000 affiliated researchers and more than 500 institutions, including 19 of the NCI-designated cancer centers, extends across the U.S. and into several other countries.
"We're proud to be first among the ten NCI cooperative groups to embrace - and to be funded for - comparative effectiveness research as part of our mission," said SWOG Group Chair Laurence H. Baker, D.O., referring to recent Group initiatives to develop more formal methods of identifying which studies will have the greatest clinical benefit. Baker is professor of internal medicine and pharmacology at the University of Michigan.
The award supports the Group'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.
"While the funding numbers are impressive, they don't tell the whole story," said Medical School Dean James O. Woolliscroft, M.D. "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 of the U-M Medical School's faculty are actively involved in SWOG trials, including ten 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 one hundred clinical trials underway and is following more than 30,000 participating patients.
[Note: This is an expanded version of the story that was released nationally.]