Dr Ander Urruticoechea
Interview with Dr Ander Urruticoechea, new member of the BIG Executive Board 2017-2021
Could you please explain what motivated you to apply and serve on the BIG Executive Board (EB)?
In the current scenario of cancer research, where the academic lead of innovation is deeply handicapped by the constraints of research regulation, the role of large cooperative groups is of paramount importance.
Large transnational academic consortia are one of the only means to get relevant answers to a substantial number of the most urgent questions that patients and physicians face daily in the clinic.
I am deeply convinced of the importance of clinical research for optimal patient care. As a matter of fact, I have made it my personal commitment to make research my main focus in work; so being part of BIG Executive Board is a fantastic opportunity, and a personal challenge, to meet some of these own goals.
What particular expertise do you think you can bring to the BIG EB?
My contribution to the BIG EB will stream from three areas of expertise:
- Team group management: I currently serve as the scientific and general manager in a cancer hospital where my main focus, beyond patient care, is leading team work of health professionals towards research and development
- My own scientific expertise in breast cancer biology, in particular in endocrine resistance and new therapies in this area
- My expertise on early clinical trials organisation from a cooperative perspective, a task that I carried out at GEICAM, the Spanish Group of Breast Cancer.
Please cite three elements that you find critical for the continued success of BIG in the next decade?
As I see it, the future success of BIG in changing breast cancer patients’ futures through research depends on its ability to adapt to a novel paradigm of research in cancer:
- BIG is currently experiencing the transition from a group for large phase III adjuvant trials to a network of investigators working together to design and perform complex trials in early phases with highly demanding patient stratification. Projects such as AURORA or OPTIMISM need to be boosted as priorities for the group
- BIG needs to incorporate extensive knowledge into translational medicine in order to co-lead, alongside the other stakeholders, biologically sound research from an academic perspective
- BIG needs to adapt its governance policy to allow being viewed by breast cancer investigators of all disciplines as their primary professional partner for research development. We need to follow our current progress regarding transparency and to open the group further to all areas/agents of research beyond medical oncology, including basic and value-based medicine researchers.
What are the biggest challenges currently faced by all stakeholders of the breast cancer research area? How do you think BIG can play a significant role in this context?
I would anticipate that the major challenge to all breast cancer investigators is to delineate novel forms of clinical research that:
- go beyond traditional clinical trial design in order to speed-up the arrival of solutions to clinical practice
- adapt research to the molecularly defined scenarios in the context of precision medicine
- allow a larger number of patients to be part of research
- allow the use of patient reported outcomes as major goals of novel developments, and
- contribute to healthcare systems’ sustainability.
In order to achieve these goals, cooperative research in BIG, further and beyond the traditional, highly motivated individual-based research, has a potential major role as THE key agent for breast cancer.
Do you think we will see practice-changing results from breast cancer research in the next decade? Which ones?
Yes, we will soon see better outcomes with less toxicity from therapies through optimal patient stratification. We will see some patients being cured without surgery, and we will see blood-based patient screening and clinical follow-up. We will see chemotherapy progressively disappearing from most clinical instances…and much more.
As a member of the BIG EB, you play a key role in shaping international breast cancer research. You also have heavy responsibilities at your own institute, and you contribute to the advancement of research at your county level. How do you balance your national with your international activities?
Balance to this extent is complicated and, when a new responsibility is taken on, the others suffer. Team building with co-teammates’ support at a local and national level, rigorous work planning, novel technologies allowing time-use optimisation… and a loving family, should make it possible.
We would like to know more about you. What do you do in your free time, what are your hobbies?
I have a “big” family, including four young children, which makes it easy to rule out the almost forgotten concept of “free time”. Nevertheless, whenever I have some spare minutes, I love to devote them to music (including playing guitar, violin and singing) and gardening. Beyond that, the closest I have been to a “hobby” lately has been watching Bilbo Baggins’ adventures with my oldest boys.
Have you read a good book lately that you would recommend?
I was recently been exposed to the fantastic experience of an audio-book (actually, The Cathedral of the Sea, by Ildefonso Falcones, already a classic in Spanish literature); I seriously recommend audio-books during transatlantic flights. It allows you to activate your brains and, at the same time, drown in your imagination.