Spotlight Series – Robyn Strong
Chief Executive Officer
Robyn Strong is the Chief Executive Officer of the Australian and New Zealand Children’s Haematology / Oncology Group (ANZCHOG). Her role is primarily responsible for ANZCHOG as a peak professional body and as a Cancer Cooperative Trials Group (CCTG). There are separate responsibilities but sometimes they do overlap.
In the trial space Robyn is responsible for ensuring ANZCHOG is meeting all the requirements of a clinical trial sponsor and running the trials according to Good Clinical Practice (GCP). She has overseen the growth of the organisation to enable capabilities throughout the entire clinical trial life cycle, from start up, conduct, monitoring and trial close out.
As a peak professional body Robyn must oversee the structure, membership groups and governance of the organisation as a whole. She is tasked with reporting regularly to the Board to ensure as a public company limited by guarantee ANZCHOG is ticking all the right boxes.
Robyn has a diverse range of responsibilities which keeps her extremely busy. A typical day would include plenty of emails, meetings and activities around all different aspects of the organisation, including internal team meetings, international trials groups, international sponsors, funders, legal and budgets.
Robyn’s path into clinical trials came via radiography, IT software development and health information management. Her role at the Royal Children’s Hospital Children’s Cancer Centre as a Trial Coordinator gave her the experience to then take on the role of the Australasian Children’s Cancer Trials (ACCT) Program Manager in 2008 which expanded to include ANZCHOG Executive Officer responsibilities in 2010, when this part-time role became vacant. The ANZCHOG team began to grow with Janelle Jones joining in 2011, followed by Michelle Carr in 2017, and then expanded quickly into the specialised team we have today.
When asked why she is so well suited to this role Robyn explains,
‘I am a problem solver. There are so many different aspects of this role and many barriers that need to be overcome. My background in project management and leading software teams has given me the skills I need for this job. The planning and processes are much like a clinical trial life cycle. There are so many interdependencies that need to be managed – contracts, budget, conduct, sites. You need to look at what is required for the trial, pull it all together and make sure it all runs smoothly.’
Robyn finds the most rewarding part of her job is the impact ANZCHOG is making in these important clinical trials in children’s cancer. The ANZCHOG clinical trial portfolio has grown significantly since 2010 and provides opportunities for new treatments and therapies for children with a range of cancer types and difficult diagnoses. There’s a relevance to what Robyn and her team does and that’s a huge motivator for her.
She also enjoys working with really good people.
‘There are so many fantastic people that make up ANZCHOG – clinicians, members and staff. I have worked with Janelle and Michelle for a number of years and we work really well together as a leadership team. I have also been very fortunate to have received the support that I have from the ANZCHOG Board.‘
The most challenging aspect of Robyn’s role is never having enough money, time or resources.
‘As a rare cancer / disease group ANZCHOG is quite small so we need to shout pretty loud to be heard and be relevant. Paediatric oncology is so different from adults, there’s often misunderstanding and misinterpretation that needs to be managed.‘
As a clinical trials group ANZCHOG has been very successful in funding and resourcing trials. The ongoing challenge is to find a sustainable funding stream as a peak professional body for activities and responsibilities within ANZCHOG – to be able to do more for the general membership.
‘Thanks to Janelle’s expertise, ANZCHOG has benefited from targeted funding initiatives to support both infrastructure and individual trials in recent years, securing grants that have underpinned the growth of the ANZCHOG clinical trial portfolio. Our newly launched e-Community is a first step to increasing our focus on our membership.‘
Throughout Robyn’s time with ANZCHOG she has seen many changes. Clinical trials are much more complex now to when she first started.
‘Where before we would have some phase 2 studies looking at a new drug or some phase 3 studies – big studies that several sites would be running – we now have many different trial designs, many more early phase trials and targeted studies. There is a lot more complexity around the trials, they’re not just tumour driven.‘
Trials have also become much more complicated to manage, particularly in Australia. Unlike New Zealand who have their processes quite streamlined, the governance at Australian sites is much more disparate and therefore difficult. There are many different systems that add to the complexity, the time it takes to get trials open, and the workload for ANZCHOG and the participating sites.
Clinical trials are viewed more positively in recent times and have gained much more recognition in the public space, although clinical trials have been the cornerstone of paediatric oncology for many years. The inclusion of consumers in trial design has also increased and is viewed as a valuable partnership with health professionals.
There is also a much higher level of international engagement with paediatric cancer trials and a lot more collaboration. ANZCHOG has built international relationships and is recognised as a high quality trials group – particularly in the UK, Europe and North America. This provides opportunities for Australia and New Zealand to be invited to be a part of global trials. This is a definite change from 10 years ago and very positive for Australia and New Zealand to contribute to global endeavours.
‘ANZCHOG will continue to grow our clinical trial capabilities. Michelle especially has done a lot of work around quality and processes to make sure we are set up to be able to expand the clinical trial portfolio that we have.‘
As a peak professional body ANZCHOG member numbers continue to increase each year. Discipline and disease groups have been strengthened to enable more health professionals to get involved. The improved governance of the organisation will enable ANZCHOG to be more of a “go to” organisation for children’s cancer and ensure better engagement with external stakeholders. This is Robyn’s goal over the next few years.
Below are the different health professionals and researchers we have shone a light on during September
- ANZCHOG Chair (Professor Nick Gottardo)
- Principal Research Fellow (Natalie Bradford)
- Paediatric Oncologist (Dr Tristan Pettit)
- Clinical Research Nurse (Reg Gayaman)
- Clinical Nurse Consultant (Helen Starosta)
- Consumer (Anne Kay)
- Pharmacist (Hayley Vasileff)
- Research Scientist (Dr Raelene Endersby)
- Senior Research Fellow (Dr Jennifer Cohen)
- Social Worker (Tanya Alestalo)
- Psycho-oncology clinician & researcher (Associate Professor Maria McCarthy)