EPOD: the Early Project Optimization Department

EPOD was created some 15 months ago in response to the global EORTC strategy and the EORTC new project prioritisation process. Strategically, EPOD plays an important role in the development of group strategy, offers project support and optimisation, and conducts pro-active project development. Operationally, it also serves as the port of entry for new projects into the EORTC and helps manage these projects during their early phase.

Development of a Group scientific strategy

The EORTC scientific strategy serves as an overarching guideline that helps frame group strategy; considerations particular to a given group can be taken into account within this framework so that the current context of the group and the group’s project proposal strategy are considered. The current context of a group is defined by the patient population, the available treatments, the group’s ongoing trials, the drug pipeline, and the biological markers of the disease, while a project proposal strategy would include new drugs, drug combinations, multimodalities, screening platforms, and translational research. Once the group strategy has been formulated, it serves as a basis from which future project proposals can arise.

Formulating group strategies represents the lion’s share of EPOD’s effort, and this effort is well placed since the group awareness developed in generating a group strategy can later pay dividends in the development of project proposals and establishment of multi-disciplinary contacts. So, just as the overarching EORTC strategy provides a framework for the development of a group strategy, the group strategy provides a framework for the development of project proposals. By providing context and strategy, the group strategy facilitates the development and improves the quality of project proposals.

EPOD recently completed a full strategy assessment with the Cutaneous T-Cell Lymphoma Task Force that led to two new protocols being approved by the EORTC protocol review committee. Three other strategies, one each for ovarian cancer, Hodgkin’s lymphoma and pancreatic cancer, have also been completed. Several new strategies are currently being developed among which one for Non Small Cell Lung cancer.

Optimization of project proposals

Subsequent to the development of a group strategy, EPOD can help optimise project proposals. EPOD is well suited for this task as it is designed to develop long-term relationships with the multitude of entities that comprise a multidisciplinary and international translational research clinical trial. As such, it can orchestrate early and timely involvement of experts and key opinion leaders and ensure that interactions with industrial partners are developed and optimised. The intent is to improve the quality of project proposals prior to review by the Executive Committee (ExCo) and increase the overall efficiency of project development. EPOD offers non-binding opinions and suggestions for improvement of project proposals in accordance with the overall EORTC and individual group strategies.

Over the past 18 months, 12 projects have been developed as the result of a common effort between the respective groups, EPOD and the EORTC HQ team. EPOD has also stimulated a sharing of expertise among the EORTC groups that has maximised the success rate of projects and built upon the multidisciplinarity of the EORTC.  Conversations between the Radiotherapy group, Elderly Task Force, Translational Research Division, and Functional Imaging group have resulted in high profile projects that have benefitted from the expertise available within the EORTC.

Pro-active project development

Pro-active project development also falls within the charge of EPOD. EPOD itself is in a position to directly and independently initiate proposals that might arise as a result of EPOD Strategic Reviews. Such proposals could then be discussed and further developed with the relevant EORTC Group(s) for consideration prior to submission to the EORTC Executive Committee. This proactive aspect of EPOD is particularly relevant in light of the advent of NOCI. NOCI, a consortium within the EORTC, builds upon the strengths of the individual EORTC groups and facilitates the conduct of translational research-based projects involving prospective tissue collection.

In summary, the EORTC disease oriented groups realize more efficient project proposal development by working with EPOD. EPOD functions to provide strategic review, project optimization, and can develop pro-active project proposals. EPOD also serves an operational function as the first point of contact for the development of project proposals and helps with project management during the early phase of project development.

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