Highlighting 25 Years of the International Bladder Cancer Network (IBCN) - Barton Grossman

September 17, 2022

Barton Grossman joins Ashish Kamat in highlighting the 25th anniversary of the International Bladder Cancer Network (IBCN).  The 2022 meeting is being held again in Barcelona, Spain, from September 29 – October 1. Dr. Grossman shares reflections on the cooperative efforts of the Bladder Cancer Marker Network of the National Cancer Institute (NCI), which focuses on developing and assessing biomarkers for diagnostic and prognostic use for bladder cancer, as well as the First International Workshop on Diagnostic and Prognostic Markers in Bladder Cancer which ultimately leads to the founding of the IBCN. The IBCN evolved over the last years from a loose international and multidisciplinary network of friends and colleagues to an open, formalized platform for those interested in fostering our understanding of the use and implication of biomarkers in translational medicine for bladder cancer.


H. Barton Grossman, MD, Former, Professor of Urology, MD Anderson Cancer Center, Houston, Texas

Ashish Kamat, MD, MBBS, Professor, Department of Urology, Division of Surgery, University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, President, International Bladder Cancer Group (IBCG), Houston, Texas

Read the Full Video Transcript

Ashish Kamat: Hello, and welcome to UroToday's Bladder Cancer Center of Excellence. I'm Ashish Kamat, professor of urologic oncology and cancer research at M D Anderson Cancer Center. And today, it's a distinct pleasure and privilege to welcome to our Center of Excellence, Professor Bart Grossman. Dr. Grossman clearly needs no introduction, he is very well known in this field. But today, I have him joining us to talk about something a little bit different than his usual expertise in bladder cancer. And that is, the International Bladder Cancer Network. This year marks the 25th anniversary of the IBCN, the International Bladder Cancer Network, and Dr. Grossman was instrumental in getting this started about 25 years ago. He was one of the founding presidents of the organization. And in fact, Bart, if you remember, it was you who handed over the presidentship to me, when you said, "I've done all I can, now you take it and run with it." So again, it's a pleasure to welcome you, Bart, and the stage is yours.

Barton Grossman: Thank you, Ashish. And yes, I remember well, and I'm glad you not only ran with it, you threw a touchdown. So this seems like an appropriate time to reflect on the origins of the IBCN since it's 25 years. And with most origin stories, there's a number of vectors that have to come into play, and those include foresight, expertise, a bit of luck. And as Victor Yugo put it so aptly, "Nothing is more powerful than an idea whose time has come."

In the beginning, molecular biology was still in its infancy when the IBCN was not yet quite formed. p53, the so-called guardian, the genome, was just beginning to be a hot topic. And at that time there was little research being done in biomarkers, especially in the area of bladder cancer. In this environment, the United States National Cancer Institute published an RFA to establish a marker network for bladder cancer. Three pathologists, Richard Cote, Carlos Cordon-Cardo, and Fred Waldman, and two urologists, Steve Fradet and myself were funded. We met on a regular basis with Roger Amit, the NCI representative, and it soon became obvious that we just needed more people to talk to.

So to fill the void, the Marker Network obtained funding for a meeting, and invited researchers to participate in an International Workshop on Diagnostic and Prognostic Markers in Bladder Cancer, and this was held in Barcelona in May 1997. The meeting was a success and had considerable enthusiasm. So support was then obtained from the Fundació Puigvert, the Fundación Echevarne, and the pharmaceutical/life sciences industry, enabling the second International Workshop in Barcelona, in October 1998. So with that, the seeds of the group were started, but we were not there yet. A somewhat smaller meeting was held in Ancona, Italy, in May 2001, that kept the flame alive for a multidisciplinary international group, interested in advancing research in bladder cancer biomarkers. And as they say, the rest is history.

In 2003, there was funding for an international Tissue MicroArray Collaboration through the MD Anderson Bladder Cancer SPORE. In 2006, thanks to the efforts of Bernd Schmitz-Dräger, the IBCN was incorporated as an official organization in Germany. In 2008, we had our first election of officers, at the sixth meeting of the IBCN in Barcelona. And since then, there have been annual meetings.

This was a slide that I showed at the fourth meeting in Trento in 2002, Bernd and I so-called playing yin and yang, trying to keep the organization on track. And fortunately, we had significant help, in the form of Peter Gobel, who twisted arms, helped organized meetings, and ensured that this nascent organization would, in fact, succeed. Many of you know Bernd as an outstanding urologist, but he has other skills as well. He's also an excellent chef, has published a very well received cookbook. And importantly, for this organization, burnt is the one who designed the logo.

Ashish Kamat: Thanks. Thanks Bart. It's always great to see how an organization started, and the history, and seeing you put that down in bullet points was actually eyeopening, even for me, because I'd forgotten some of the arm twisting that you guys had to have happen. And I'd actually even forgotten that Bernd was a chef with a published cookbook. I knew that and I forgot it, and thanks for reminding us.

So this year, we are having our 21st meeting in again, in Barcelona. As they say, I love BCN. I love Barcelona. Some words of wisdom for the current members, many of whom may not have known of the travels and the various nuances of the organization?

Barton Grossman: I think there's several key things. The first of all, this is a multidisciplinary group, and we didn't just get a bunch of urologists to talk about the same old things, and try to get a multidisciplinary group together, and try to get real ongoing collaboration between the participants. And this is met with somewhat limited success. You can always do more, and I expect in the future, more will, in fact, be done. But it's this uniqueness of collaboration, and the efforts to focus on biomarkers, which makes this interesting, very timely. The president was just speaking on the new moon shot for cancer, and touting all the benefits that biomarkers will play in the future, and I'm sure that's true. And hopefully, this organization will continue to play a significant role in that effort.

Ashish Kamat: Yeah. I have no doubt. Over the last several years, we've sort of grown the organization to, even though it's still the IBCN, to move beyond just markers, into therapeutics, and early drug discovery, and other collaborative efforts. But at heart, we're still the IBCN. Right? The International Bladder Cancer Network for markers.

One of the things that we have done over the years, and again, you were part of the early phase, and then we morphed it over the last several years, is actually invite industry partners to come and share with us very early development. So not just drugs that are in Phase III or Phase IV studies, because obviously, those are important. But to share with us some early insights into what they're thinking, have breakout sessions, and really engage the entire community. Because like you said, it's a true collaborative network. It's early phase talks. In fact, do you have any anecdotes you want to share with us about some of the early chalkboard talks that you used to have, where ideas came up, and an example of some of those?

Barton Grossman: Well, the one sort of unexpected success was the funding we obtained through the MD Anderson SPORE, for trying to develop an international network, looking at markers on slides. As you say, there's no reason you have to be limited to biomarkers. The goal is, to improve the treatment of bladder cancer in general, and the more people and the more ideas that you can throw at that, including industry as well as academia, I think that's just going to improve the chances of success in the future.

Ashish Kamat: Right. And Bart, again, I don't want to keep you for too long, but any pearls of wisdom you want to share with our current members?

Barton Grossman: Probably, the best thing was dating back to the original bladder cancer marker network. There were five of us. We were all very friendly. We respected each other's science. We collaborated, but it wasn't enough. You need to speak with more people, get involved, have collaborations, go outside your expertise, learn a bit of related fields that you may not have thought about. And you never know what's going to turn out.

Ashish Kamat: Absolutely. For those of you that are listening to this on UroToday before our meeting, I invite you all to attend the meeting, and join us in Barcelona at the end of September, early October. And for those of you that are viewing this and listening to this at the meeting, I hope you had a great meeting, and I hope to see you again next year. Thank you again, and thank you, Bart.

Barton Grossman: Thank you.