2000 - 2009

Since the late-1960s, members of the NZSO had been careful to maintain their agreement with the Cancer Society to remain a purely academic, apolitical society.

Yet, debates about whether the NZSO should take a stance on political issues have emerged at various points in its fifty-year history. In 1991, members discussed whether the NZSO should take a national role on matters such as cancer screening, diagnosis, treatment and research. Some members argued that the Society should refrain from engaging in controversial issues, while others identified a need for an organisation like the NZSO to lobby for adequate resources for cancer.1 This latter point once again emerged in 2002, when the Manawatu Evening Standard reported that 'cancer specialists railed against the lack of money and lack of support' at the NZSO conference in Palmerston North.2

NZSO questionnaire
NZSO Questionaire 1

A selection of responses from a questionnaire circulated to members at the 1991 NZSO meeting.
Seven of the thirty-two respondents indicated their interest in debates about controversial topics.3

For the most part, however, the NZSO has remained a non-political group. One of the few exceptions is regarding discussions about the cost of medication. This topic emerged as early as 1979 with the theme of the conference dinner: 'Can New Zealand Afford High Cost Cancer Medicine?'4

Concerns about the increasing cost of medication took centre stage during the 2005 annual meeting in Wellington. The conference included a two-hour panel and discussion entitled, 'Implementing New Technologies'. George Laking was completing his PhD on health economics in London. He accepted an invitation to attend the meeting as a guest speaker. George recalls the panel:

got a bit heated because they organised that meeting to understand the problem with access to high cost medicines and they had Pharmac there and they also had some of the advocacy groups there … and someone I think from the industry side or from Medicines New Zealand referred to the conversation as a 'stoush at NZSO [laughs] between them and Pharmac'. But I think, what I perceived was just more of a frank exchange of views: Pharmac trying to keep the lid on the pharmaceutical budget, and the industry and the oncologists advocating for a widening of access to drugs.5

George Laking

The panel highlighted an important shift in attitudes towards Pharmac that was underway across the mid-2000s. George explains that Pharmac had few supporters at the 2005 meeting and had received criticism for limiting access to potentially lifesaving medication. Yet, Pharmac gained further support in the late-2000s with increasingly open discussions about the 'financial toxicity' of cancer treatment.6

NZSO 2003 and 2005 programme
NZSO 2003 and 2005 programme 1

Conference programmes from 2003 and 2005.

While the NZSO aimed to foster connections between clinicians and scientists, members noted a struggle to maintain a strong clinical presence at the meetings. Meeting convenors were especially wary that they would struggle to attract sponsorship with the declining number of clinicians.

These concerns only materialised in full after 2010. In 2003, twenty-two clinicians attended the annual meeting, which was a higher number than expected.7 The executive committee agreed to try to attract clinicians to the following meeting by inviting departmental clinical directors to the meetings well in advance.8 These efforts proved to be worthwhile. In 2004, the committee reported on a successful conference 'with good clinical attendance'.9

Michael Jameson has been a member of the NZSO since the mid-1990s. While he was one of fewer than twenty medical oncologists in New Zealand at that time, he recalls there was a 'very well-established group' of senior clinicians who attended the meetings every year. Most of these oncologists had completed an MD or a PhD (or both) and had laboratory experience in New Zealand or overseas. They were well aligned with the scientific papers.10

Michael Jameson

The involvement of clinicians was also aided by the NZ Society for Clinical Oncology (NZCO). The NZCO was established in 1984 and comprised medical oncologists, radiation oncologists, and one paediatric oncologist. Members of the NZSO were initially concerned that the new Society would divide their membership.11

On the contrary, the NZCO, sometimes referred to as the Clinical Oncology Group, held half-day meetings alongside the NZSO conferences. Michael explains that these meetings attracted medical and radiation oncologists to the NZSO, the latter of whom regarded the NZSO as a 'drug meeting' for scientists and medical oncologists and would otherwise not attend.12

NZSO first meeting

Note from the first meeting of the NZCO in 1984 that outlines their objectives in relation to the NZSO.

The financial growth of the NZSO meant it was able to fund awards for members from the early-2000s. While membership fees remained low, the Society had accumulated money through conference sponsorship and registration fees. They awarded the first NZSO-sponsored student travel grants in 2001.13

Student members had been involved in the NZSO since the late-1960s. The committee's decision to fund travel grants for students reflected the role of the Society as a 'practicing ground' for students to present their work as a poster or as an oral presentation. As Bridget Robinson explains, the meetings allowed students 'to get to know who the seniors are because it's relatively less expensive than going offshore'.14

Bridget Robinson

In 2008, the executive committee also established the NZSO Translational Research Award of $5000. Parry Guilford was president at that time. He explains that while the Society had awarded prizes to students and trainees, they also wanted to offer an award for established researchers. The following year, Bill Wilson became the first person to receive the award.

The establishment of an award for translational research encapsulated the Society's aims to facilitate collaboration between scientists and clinicians.

Parry explains that when research is 'just driven by a scientist that's not well informed about clinical issues, you end up with a solution looking for a problem ... To do good translational research you have to be very well informed by the doctors'.15

Parry Guilford

Ben Lawrence also attested to the importance of translational research. Ben's main introduction to translational research came when he was an oncology registrar. He met with Bruce Baguley who spoke about his vision of clinicians and scientists working together and 'encouraging better questions and solutions'. Ben explains that translational research aims to:

effectively reduce the time taken for a scientific discovery to get patient exposure. At a basic level that means you either use patient samples and their clinical outcomes to test these biomarkers very early, or you're trying to shorten the time from development of a drug to the delivery of a drug to the patient. So, true translational research is usually a biological question that has patient involvement in the workup of that question.16

Ben Lawrence

For the NZSO to continue to facilitate translational research, the meetings had to remain relevant for clinicians and scientists amidst the increasing number of specialised meetings both groups needed to attend.


1Minutes of the 19th Annual General Meeting, May 1991, Auckland, NZSO archives.
2'Cancer Care "Undervalued"', Manawatu Evening Standard, 20 April 2002.
3Letter from Vernon Harvey to Chris Atkinson, 17 February 1992, NZSO archives.
4Letter from A. J. Gray to Bruce Cain, 14 May 1979, NZSO archives.
5Interview with George Laking, 4 April 2018.
7Minutes of the 32nd Annual General Meeting, 1 May 2003, Sheraton Hotel, Auckland, NZSO archives.
9Minutes of the Executive Committee Teleconference, 25 August 2004, NZSO archives.
10Interview with Michael Jameson, 23 April 2018.
11Minutes of the 13th Annual General Meeting, 25 August 1984, Wellington Clinical School, NZSO archives.
12Interview with Michael Jameson.
13Minutes of the 30th Annual General Meeting, 5 April 2001, Dynasty Heritage Hotel, Rotorua, NZSO archives.
14Interview with Bridget Robinson, 6 March 2018.
15Interview with Parry Guilford, 15 March 2018.
16Interview with Ben Lawrence, 29 March 2018.