Lung cancer research faces shake-up after dramatic split of ALTG

Lung cancer

By Megan Howe

21 Jul 2020

The Australasian Lung Cancer Trials Group (ALTG) president and entire Management Advisory Committee have quit and started their own breakaway trials group in a dramatic split from the Lung Foundation Australia (LFA), which described it as “not in the best interests of lung cancer research”.

The LFA has moved to allay concerns about the funding of ongoing trials, as it announced on 10 July that it had “reluctantly” accepted the resignations of the President, Associate Professor Nick Pavlakis, and the management committee of the ALTG.

The ALTG was established as part of the LFA’s Lung Cancer National Program in 2004, and a breakaway group have now formed a new lung and other thoracic cancer trials group – Thoracic Oncology Group Australasia (TOGA).

Associate Professor Pavlakis, a Sydney-based medical oncologist who undertakes extensive research in thoracic and GI cancers, told the limbic it was too early to make public comment about the breakaway group.

But Lung Foundation CEO Mr Mark Brooke said the split came after long-running discussions about the committee’s desire for more autonomy.

“It is not a parting on negative terms,” he said. “We have been trying to resolve this matter for the last 12 months and it has been conducted with great respect and dignity on both our parts. “

Mr Brooke said the Lung Foundation had a broad remit across all lung disorders, including cancers, and he understood the breakaway group was seeking a targeted approach on lung and thoracic cancers.

“It was not able to be accommodated within the current governance structures. We have a board, an elected board … ALTG wanted to secure more autonomy. But you can’t have a board within a board.”

While Mr Brooke described the separation as “amicable”, he criticised the committee members’ decision to breakaway in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The Board and I believe right now is not the right time to establish another lung cancer group, as we are dealing with difficult times with the pandemic.”

The ALF statement reads: “After 15 years of successful collaboration and outstanding work we are concerned, especially in the context of the challenges and flow-on effects to research investment from COVID 19, that the separation of ALTG and Lung Foundation Australia is not in the best interests of lung cancer research.”

However, Mr Brooke said the ALF would work with TOGA, as they do with other bodies conducting lung research.

“We acknowledge a shared vision for lung cancer research, whilst we might disagree on the mechanics of governance.”

All ALTG’s existing clinical trials would continue to be supported by the Australian Lung Foundation, he said, and his message to clinicians who had patients enrolled in ALTG-run trials was that it is “business as usual”.

The ALTG currently lists five active trials (in start-up and recruitment stage) and six trials in follow up stages on its website, including the new $12 million ASPiRATION precision medicine trial being undertaken with NHMRC Clinical Trials Centre and the Australian Genomic Cancer Medicine Centre to explore benefits of routine genomic profiling of 1000 newly-diagnosed metastatic non-squamous NSCLC (non-small cell lung cancer) patients.

A second Lung Foundation Australia statement posted on the ALTG website on 16 July states:

“At this time that [sic] the Lung Foundation Australia continues to be funded for the operation of the ALTG, in particular with University of Sydney, and all lung cancer trials are proceeding consistent with investigator agreements. We are being guided by funding contracts currently in place and these form a legal basis for future discussions.”

The statement says LFA is awaiting a meeting with TOGA to discuss a partnership: “We look forward to understanding TOGA”s vision and details of the proposed partnership going forward.”

Mr Brooke said other ALTG members had come forward to form a new Management Advisory Committee and a new president would be appointed for the body.

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