The tradition of clinical, translational, and collaborative research in women’s cancer in Kolkata dates to the early half of the 20th century; The founder director of Chittaranjan National Cancer Institute (CNCI) Kolkata, where KolGo Trg is presently located, was Professor Subodh Mitra- an eminent Gynaecological oncologist and researcher-famously known for the Mitra’s operation in cervical cancer. Even prior to that, the Medical College Bengal (or Calcutta Medical College-founded in 1835 as the first Medical College in South East Asia) and its Gynaecology wing Eden Hospital had several contributors to this field in addition to the three other Medical Colleges in Kolkata, namely Nilratan Sirkar Medical college, R G Kar Medical College and National Medical College. Currently, there are three major regional cancer centres in Kolkata- CNCI, SGCCRI (Saroj Gupta Cancer Centre and Research Institute) and Tata Medical Centre (TMC). In addition, Calcutta or Kolkata, being the once capital of British India, had several other National Institutes for basic and Medical Sciences developed and located in close proximity to these clinical centres like the Indian Statistical Institute, Indian Institute of Chemical Biology, Indian Association for Cultivation of Science, Indian Institute of Technology, Calcutta School of Tropical Medicine, All India Institute of Hygiene and Public Health, Bose Institute, Saha Institute of Nuclear Physics, 3 major Universities in the city and in the recent years- the National Institute for Biomedical Genomics and the Indian Institute for Science Education and Research. Whilst all of three cancer centres have been research-active in women’s cancer- there was no formal collaborative research platform or research group/network present, other than the collaborative work between individual researchers within these institutes. Excepting a few circumstances, the clinician scientist interaction in the field of Gynaecological Oncology has been evolving, but not overtly prominent over the years.
In September 2016, the then NCI global health Director Ted Trimble visited TMC Kolkata; Asima Mukhopadhyay- a clinician scientist, then based at TMC, presented her vision and her ongoing collaborative research work across the region. Dr Trimble introduced her about the concept and functioning of the International collaborative research group GCIG and CCRN and he initiated the connection with GCIG; Dr Mukhopadhyay attended the GCIG Lisbon Autumn meeting and the subsequent meetings as an observer. Dr Michael Bookman, during one of his India visits also sensitised her regarding the prior effort from India to join the GCIG without much success because of the need to form a collaborative group to fulfil the eligibility criteria. During one of the GCIG/ CCRN meetings- Dr Mukhopadhyay approached Mary McCormack, the then CCRN chair to discuss prospects of joining the GCIG/CCRN trial INTERLACE. The initial effort and promise to join the INTERLACE trial from TMC Kolkata were unsuccessful due to several reasons- both technical and non-technical. It was this failure that prompted creation of a Kolkata based co-operative research group to facilitate joining INTERLACE with participation from other centres in the region. On 22nd December 2017, 10 members – both clinicians and scientists based at the three cancer centres and other basic science institutes in the city met at the Chittaranjan National Cancer Institute in the presence of the then Director, Dr Tapas Maji. A resolve was taken to form a registered society by the name of Kolkata Gynecological Oncology Trials and Translational Research Group. The office bearers were selected (President – Biman Chakrabarty, Vice President- Chitra Mandal, Secretary- Asima Mukhopadhyay and Treasurer- Ranajit Mandal) and the official address of CNCI was decided by unanimous consensus: CNCI being the first National Cancer Institute in India with major historic importance and the only government funded cancer centre in the region. The initial proceedings were possible due to personal donations and life membership fees from the governing body members. This is our first milestone.
The official opening ceremony was held on 7th January 2018 at the Taj Gateway Hotel, supported by our 1st academia- Industry partner- Strand Life Sciences. Professor Ranjit Manchanda from the Bart’s Cancer Institute and the Royal London Hospital was our chief guest of the meeting. The theme centred on collaborative research on genetic testing (BRCA) in ovarian/ women’s cancer. This collaboration with Strand LS, later led to another important collaboration with DFCI Harvard (Professor Dipanjan Chowdhury) to work on areas of genetic testing and micro-RNA in ovarian cancer.
This event was promptly followed by our 1st Translational Research Day held at TMC Kolkata on 31st January 2018- our second milestone. It was a huge success with over 60 participants including young researchers working on women’s cancer in the region. The Director of TMC Kolkata, Professor Mammen Chandy inaugurated the meeting. There were talks delivered by eminent scientists in the region and guests including Professor Nicola Curtin form Newcastle University, Prof B C Roy from Amity University Delhi, Professors in the region -Chita Mandal, Tanya Das, Susanta RoyChowdhury, Samit Chattopadhyay and the DST-UKIERI grant chief scientist Dr S K Varshney. This joint UKIERI-KolGo Trg sponsored meeting truly showcased our translational research strength and potential to work on complimentary themes.
In April 2018, we had another important academia-industry collaboration meeting with Medgenome PVT Ltd, to work on areas of translational research in ovarian cancer pertaining to tumour immunology, joint grant applications, genomic studies and biobanking. Dr Amit Chaudhury, the Vice president for R&D, Medgenome delivered a lecture on collaborative research platforms and pipelines and signed a research agreement with KolGo Trg- our 3rd milestone.
Over the months since January 2018, several formal and informal meetings were held by the members including increase in the membership, research strategies and registration as a society under the West Bengal Society act in May 2018 which formally marked our status as a collaborative research group and an independent legal entity- our 4th milestone.
In the same month, a British Council delegation visited TMC Kolkata, led by the Deputy Director Baroness Usha Prashar. The work of KolGo Trg was presented and would mark the beginning of research collaboration with the British Council in several International grant applications.
One of the most important events in 2018 was the Kolkata visit by the CCRN chair Mary McCormack in the month of June. All three regional cancer centres – TMC, CNCI and SCGGRI obtained CCRN accreditation. A meeting was held on 17th June to discuss participation in the INTERLACE trial. The overwhelming support given by the SGCCRI team of researchers- Prof Biman Chakrabarty (President), Rahul Roy Chowdhury (Joint secretary), Tamohan Chaudhuri, Susanta Roy Chowdhury and the Director Arnab Gupta towards their resolve and mandate to ensure India’s first ever entry into a GCIG trial is surely one of the landmark events and our 5th milestone. The first patient from India was recruited in February 2019 from SGCCRI.
The 5-day long 1st annual meeting and workshop held at the Biswa Bangla Convention Centre and TMC Kolkata in February/March 2019 was a mega event for KolGoTrg and our 6th milestone. Attended by several national and international luminaries and GCIG representatives and a whole-hearted participation from all KolGo members marked an organisational feat and showcased a desire to excel and succeed as an International research group. Several potential trials and designs were discussed – but most importantly the road map to become the first ever research group from India to become a GCIG member group. The feedback from the GCIG representatives were encouraging and was followed by an online meeting by the GCIG chair/delegates to discuss membership.
GCIG spring meeting at Chicago in May 2019- marked the entry of KolGoTrg being a provisional GCIG member group- our 7th milestone. The sense of pride and responsibility for being flag bearers of the nation was cherished by all group members. The following months had seen several collaborative research grants being written and defended until the entry of Covid 19 at the beginning of 2020.
The beginning of 2020 was promising; a small group protocol writing workshop was held in January 2020 in presence of Dr Michael Bookman and Professor Sanjoy Paul at the newly formed research centre and public health institute, I3T Kolkata with whom we signed a collaborative research agreement. This was followed by a 3 day visit by the GCIG chair elect (and KolGoTrg mentor) Professor Amit Oza in February 2020. The second annual meeting and our 3rd translational research day was graced by his presence and again showcased the regional strength of networking towards research in Women’s cancer- our 8th milestone. The 3 potential GCIG trials from KolGoTrg namely HR-HIPEC, HOTROC and IPIROC was discussed in length including online discussions with Prof Michael Bookman (USA) and Prof Iain McNeish (UK).
The spring 2021 GCIG virtual meeting at Chicago was another landmark event (9th milestone)- where 2 KolGo studies HR-HIPEC and IPIROC was presented for the first time from India in the GCIG phase 2 committee meeting followed by another presentation at the translational committee meeting. A collaborative research agreement was signed with the GINECO group in Paris towards KolGoTrg participation in the CCRN study SENTICOL 3. Although, the research work on ground was severely hampered in Kolkata due to the aftermath of Covid and the super cyclone in May 2021, the KolGoTrg researchers continued to work towards development of SOP, Protocol, and website and even organisation of the first ever virtual PPI (Patient public involvement) group from this region being supported by the CRUK-DBT cancer challenges seed corn funding. Our 10th milestone is the creation of our PPI group which has actively participated in the research design of our upcoming KolGoTrg studies. The patient survivor group Sarbojaya led by Prof Tanya Das continues to support our research activities through active participation.
Our International outreach continued to increase with our collaboration with the World Ovarian Cancer Coalition (WOCC) and being declared as a charter champion in the presidential plenary session at IGCS Rome in September 2020- our 11th milestone.
The beginning of 2021 has brought a new collaboration with OVARCOME, an USA based NGO dedicated for ovarian cancer research and the team of researchers from MD Anderson Cancer Centre, for the study NuGenA- our 12th milestone.
Our 3rd birthday was celebrated online on 7th January 2021 through a virtual launch of our website- our 13th milestone.
Our journey continues……
This venture has been supported through the in-kind support from all three regional cancer centres and members and volunteers. Funding towards various aspects of research and organisation has been supported by the DST-UKIERI grant, CRUK DBT seed corn fund, manpower support from the study team members of the SyMEC project at TMC Kolkata funded by DBT India, Trial co-ordination funds received from UCL CTC for the INTERLACE trial, proceedings from annual meetings/sponsorships, academic collaborations (Strand Life sciences, Jivdaya foundation USA, Medgenome PVT Ltd), membership and personal donations including the royalty payment (Newcastle University) received by the Director, Asima Mukhopadhyay.