This piece was originally published via The SWOG Front Line, the weekly blog of Group Chair Dr. Charles Blanke.

This is the third year we’re announcing $25,000 grants to U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs medical centers, in an effort to give more military veterans access to cutting-edge treatments being tested in National Clinical Trials Network research studies.

The Hope Foundation funds are aimed at building or expanding infrastructure – typically for front-line staff critical for running a cancer trial. You all know clinical research associates and oncology nurses are crucial to conducting studies. They discuss the day-to-day operations with patients, assist with tissue and data submissions, and perform many other necessary tasks. These research professionals are in particularly short supply at VA medical centers.

This year’s VA Integration Support Program awards go to:

  • South Texas Veterans Healthcare System, San Antonio, TX
  • VA Central California Health Care System, Fresno, CA
  • VA Medical Center New Orleans, New Orleans, LA
  • W.G. (Bill) Hefner VA Medical Center, Salisbury, NC

Hope has now awarded $350,000 through the VA Integration Support Program, seeding research support at a total of 14 VAs, located in 12 states, from New York to Florida to Washington. Nearly all these hospitals now have the staff and CIRB arrangements to offer NCTN clinical trials, including our own Lung-MAP and the NCI-MATCH study.VA Integration Support Program Map  In the past three years since our program began, 95 patients at VA medical centers in the U.S. were enrolled in SWOG or SWOG-credited clinical trials. That’s a 300 percent increase from enrollments from VA centers prior to the program launch. Given the start-up time for new hires and to activate trials, we think this is a significant improvement. 

What’s even more exciting is the release this week of a request for applications for a new program similar to ours, but on a bigger scale. It’s the NCI and VA Interagency Group to Accelerate Trials Enrollment, or NAVIGATE. Like ours, this brand-new program is aimed at offering veterans the chance to participate in NCTN and NCI Community Oncology Research Program (NCORP) studies. And, like ours, the funding will pay for personnel to initiate NCTN and NCORP membership, open trials, execute agreements with the CIRB, and work collaboratively with other VA sites to identify appropriate studies for the veteran cancer patient population.

MAVERIC, the VA clinical research program and our partners in the VA Integration Support Program, will be running the new NAVIGATE program. We will work closely with them, ensuring that our programs work together to maximize impact, and to maximize patient access to oncology trials.

Hope is also working with us to tweak our program for 2018. We expect to double the VA grant amount to $50,000 and offer fewer awards. We aren’t trying to become parsimonious. We have just realized successful centers need more funds to predictably cover staff costs. I’m thrilled that in just three years, we’re starting to make a real difference in trial access to a patient population who deserve the best our health care system has to offer – NCTN research.