Some clinicians and scientists involved in the NZSO felt more comfortable with the prospect of continuing meetings without sponsorship. Others wanted pharmaceutical companies to return to the meetings as research partners who were instrumental in facilitating clinical trials in New Zealand.
Ben explains, 'I understand why some of my colleagues feel uncomfortable, but I think for best patient care and advocating for my patients we need to have a relationship'.
In preparation for the 2017 meeting, Ben held roundtable discussions with pharmaceutical representatives. He asked the representatives to return to the meetings and stated:
'We don't want all the marketing stuff, all the banners and all that, we'd actually like you to come as research collaborators, as part of the research scene in New Zealand'. There's just as many pharmaceutical employees just purely in research in New Zealand as there are scientists, well nearly as many. It seems crazy in such a small country to separate that off, especially a country where we have such bad cancer funding.
Several pharmaceutical companies accepted the invitation to return to the NZSO meetings. They continue to support the Society by sponsoring the annual events. One company also established an NZSO mid-career research fellowship and created a mobile app to facilitate communication among cancer researchers in New Zealand.
The modernisation of the NZSO also involved solidifying their international networks by connecting with the European Society for Medical Oncology (ESMO). The incoming president of ESMO, Josep Tabernero delivered the Bruce Cain Memorial Lecture in 2017. The committee also contacted the ESMO Young Oncologists Corner to invite a representative to attend the NZSO meeting in August 2018. In doing so, the executive committee aimed to 'make our trainees feel like they're part of an international scene' and to create future opportunities for registrars.
The modernisation of the NZSO offers enhanced opportunities for scientists and clinicians working in oncology in New Zealand. Michael Jameson explains that the Society continues to offer registrars a chance to 'get a sense of whether or not science excites them' and whether clinical research is an avenue they wish to pursue.
The ongoing relevance of the NZSO also reflects the changing landscape of cancer research more broadly. Bill Denny explains that the earlier meetings primarily involved 'scientists talking to scientists and clinicians talking to clinicians'. Yet, in recent years, 'cancer treatment has become much more scientific, and the scientists have become much more interested in – especially people who are developing drugs – in how they get on'.
He attributes these changes to the effectiveness of medication:
It was really difficult in the old days I think. You were working largely on your own probably and you didn't get many successes, and I think there's a much more collaborative, forward-looking, encouraging atmosphere today … because treatments work. You know, you can confidently expect you'll get a reasonable number of long-term survivals and you'll certainly rescue people who come in late for a few years, and I think that's much more positive arrangement all around. And things are changing very rapidly: the methodologies are changing, the genetics are revolutionising the whole thing … It's just a much more positive feeling all around.
The collaboration that the NZSO offers also creates particular opportunities for clinicians. David Perez explains:
The main difference is this interface stuff – which is where real science now has a direct application at the bedside – has generated a great deal of interest on both sides. And it's brought us all together … The genetic revolution is going to be going strong for another twenty years at least, if not longer. So that will offer all those opportunities for local research to be translated into treating patients. And you know, by doing that you feel as though you're making a real contribution. You're not just a passive participant, you're an active participant.
Over the last fifty years, the NZSO has created a forum for cancer researchers and clinicians in New Zealand to meet one another, share ideas, and to pursue opportunities for collaboration.
For Bill Wilson, the NZSO 'sat at that interface between clinical practice and research'. He concludes, 'the conversation between clinicians and basic scientists – I mean, often we talked past each other – that was always the raison d'être for the Society and it's continued to be so'.