Reflecting on the 25-Year History of the International Bladder Cancer Network - Peter Goebell

July 6, 2023

Ashish Kamat welcomes Peter Goebell to discuss the 25-year trajectory of the International Bladder Cancer Network (IBCN). Tracing the organization's evolution from an NIH-backed project in Barcelona to a globally recognized entity, they highlight notable achievements including a seminal p53 immunohistochemistry paper and a successful SPORE grant application for a tissue microarray project. Dr. Goebell underscores the role of personal relationships and trust in fostering global interdisciplinary collaboration among diverse professionals such as pathologists, epidemiologists, and oncologists. Drs. Kamat and Goebell envision the IBCN further supporting emerging researchers through proposed exchange and fellowship programs. Emphasizing the IBCN's resilience in transitioning to virtual meetings amidst the pandemic, they express anticipation for its continued commitment to advancing bladder cancer research and fostering future leaders in the field.


Peter Goebell, MD, PhD, Associate Professor, Department of Urology, Friedrich-Alexander-University of Erlangen-Number, Erlangen, Germany

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 everybody, and welcome to UroToday's Bladder Cancer Center of Excellence. I'm Ashish Kamat, professor of urologic oncology at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. And it's a distinct pleasure to welcome again, a dear friend, a colleague, and a pioneer in many ways, Professor Peter Goebell, all the way from Germany, who's taken the time at his evening to join us today, to go over 25 years of the history, where we are today, and where we're headed in the future, with the International Bladder Cancer Network, the IBCN. It's always a pleasure to listen to Dr. Goebell. Today, he's going to condense for us in a short time, an immensely rich history of the IBCN. And Peter, with that, the stage is yours.

Peter Goebell: Thank you, Ashish, for the introduction. And as you said, it's probably not very easy to cover 25 years in a very, very short period of time. But I'm trying to allude to some of these years, and some of the events we had. And as you might have seen already in the part Bart Grossman was giving, on the same channel, that he was referring to the International Bladder Cancer Network. And I will try to summarize these 25 years.

As he alluded already was the nidus of this network was actually through an NIH project, which was looking at markers, diagnostic and prognostic, in bladder cancer. And that took place in Barcelona, Spain. And ever since, we called this group also the Barcelona Group, because for the first time was bringing together pathologists, epidemiologists, oncologists, urologists, pathologists, and they were all working and interested in diagnostic and prognostic markers in bladder cancer.

The main goal was actually, to tackle these central question, are there markers which would help us to better understand bladder cancer? And that took place in 1997 and 1998, where I joined for the first time, actually. So it's my 24th year, to be very honest.

And what came out from these two meetings was very a landmark paper actually, on the reproducibility of p53 immunohistochemistry. And as you all aware, and if you look at this McShane paper, which is the key paper of the International Bladder Cancer Network. At that time, it was the Bladder Tumor Marker Network of the NCI. And ever since, this group interested in continued to work together to look at markers in bladder cancer, and to bring all these people together around the globe, which were interested in bladder cancer and markers.

The third meeting actually as you see, there is a gap. It was a preparatory meeting in Ancona, which was very, very important, because the funding of NIH was gone. And we were sitting together in Ancona actually, with a couple of people from this initial network, and thought on how can we continue this very fruitful work, and how can we tailor it and make it work so that we could continue? And actually, due to the people which we're interested in bladder cancer we were able to really together with the ESUR to at least have our next meeting in 2002 in Trento. And this meeting was so important, because in Trento, we invited also someone from the NCI, which was responsible for the SPORE grant program. And the SPORE grant program actually was then with this international part, able to receive funding the first and only SPORE grant actually given to a urology group around the International Bladder Cancer Network as an offspring so to speak.

And one of the projects was the tissue microarray, which was a part of this SPORE grant, and I think it shows something very, very important. We were able to collect through at both sides of the pond, 600 samples and annotations, clinical annotations, and they were put in this huge tissue microarray, basically for validation studies. But it also showed that we are able, as a consortium, to really make meaningful work together, and that it's possible to really share material and data. I think this was new at this time, and especially new at this time on this scale.

The 5th meeting was taking place in Athens, where we had a very strong epidemiologic part. As you can see here, drinking water chlorination and bladder cancer was one of the themes there, which was funded actually, through the European Science Foundation. Ever since we were seeking for funding opportunities. And that brought us back to Barcelona in 2008. So here we again, were relying on the conjunction with the European Society of Urologic Research, really to have this meeting take place. And this is the group which was gathering there in Barcelona for so back to the original place in Barcelona.

The second important part was, at this time we introduced Michael Droller to the group, and he was crucial, because he at this time was the editor of Urologic Oncology, and that gave us a platform for the seminars. And ever since, we were publishing in Urologic Oncology as our home journal.

Then, we brought the meeting to Nuremberg in Germany, it was also very important meeting, and because it was close to my new place in Erlangen, which is close to Nuremberg. So it was important to really have this here in Germany, where actually, the society is situated or placed.

The meeting in Vilnius was important, because it brought one personality you just were introduced by, I was just introduced by, and that was Ashish Kamat. Who at that time, was coming together with Bart Grossman, and actually succeeded him as president at this very meeting. And ever since, made us possible to have two presidents, one on each side of the pond. And I'm very, very happy that this meeting really was the start of a wonderful co-chairing of the IBCN together with Ashish.

The meeting in Madrid was also very important, because it led the nidus of a group, which then was looking into alterations in bladder cancer at a different scale, and later on, I'll tell you what started basically in Madrid.
The meeting in Nijmegen we had in the Netherlands in 2012, actually brought myself then no longer as general secretary, but as a president to the IBCN. So we changed positions there. And we met in 2013 in Barcelona again, also a wonderful meeting.

And the first meeting, which was then taken place in Vancouver, brought another very important personality to the board. And ever since, strongly working for the International Bladder Cancer Network. This was the group, a large group, we were still growing and the top-notch personality I'm talking of was Peter Black, who really was helping us to shape also to continue to shape the IBCN network.

And this was followed by a couple of meetings. I'm not going into each and every one of them, just showing you that the annual meeting frequency really was important for the network, and the exchange of all these important people dealing with bladder cancer interdisciplinary. And it really showed that this was a sustaining network and continued to work.

Last meeting mentioned here, in Rotterdam, actually brought another important aspect to us, and that was not only that we had a huge group here prior to the pandemic shut down, but it also showed that this ever-growing group really is representative of who is who in bladder cancer. We all felt honored to have this meeting there in Rotterdam.

At this very meeting, Ellen Zwarthoff became our first female honorary member, after Michael Droller and Bart Grossman, and that was another important step, I think also, for the society to really honor our long-term important scientists here. And Ellen Zwarthoff, who was hosting the meeting, was the third honorary member. Then we had a meeting in Aarhus, which was also very, very important. And the meeting in Aarhus again, showed another growing number, still growing number of attendees. And that was a fantastic meeting where we tailored actually, some of the data we've seen in Rotterdam with regards to alterations in bladder cancer and the consensus of subtypes in bladder cancer, which is an important piece of work by parts of the IBCN members.

The pandemic clearly showed that this huge group is able to still work together very efficiently, actually. And even at these times, the two virtual meetings we held in October in 2020, and September to December 2021, really showed with an attendance of more than 300 people actually, that this what we just saw on the Aarhus picture, that this still growing interest in bladder cancer. And we somehow felt that this virtual part also gives a new opportunity to reach out, even to more people than we did in the presence meeting. However, presence is something which is crucial for all of us. And the reason we came back to Barcelona this year is probably what you see here, it's a still growing network. Probably Barcelona is one of these places where you clearly can see something is still under construction in this place, the Sagrada Família. So the holy family is actually something which also gives some spirit to the international bladder cancer network, which is referred to as the Barcelona spirit. And the fact that it's still under construction, is what we think is also applying to our network.

So Bart Grossman was contemplating on true networking, and what is necessary for true networking. I think something I would add here is trust, as you've seen in sharing data and in sharing material. And we'll continue to do that as one of the outcomes of this year's meeting.

Opportunities for careers, opportunities for exchange, opportunities basically built on a personal interaction between these members and those who are part of this network. And I think, those three, I would add to the remarks that Bart Grossman has already done in his take before.

Bart Grossman, who was one of the task masters, together with Bernd Schmitz-Dräger, another crucial member of the IBCN network. Here you see them both at the very first meeting in Barcelona, and you see them at the 10th meeting, where we went back to Barcelona, and obviously, they're still proud of what they have started there. And this leads to the person we honored this year, and that was Bernd Schmitz-Dräger, who received the first lifetime award of the IBCN, on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of our society.

With that, I hope I could give you a short overview on 25 interesting and fantastic years, and I'm looking forward to the next 25 to come.

Ashish Kamat: That was an excellent summary, Peter. You covered a lot of information in a short time, which leaves us some time for discussion, which is great. So let me ask you, as someone who's been involved with, and first of all, let me congratulate you for everything that you've done for the IBCN. As is typical for Peter, and many people may not recognize this, he often takes the backseat, he pushes everybody forward. So I want to publicly recognize him for all the great work that he's done. I remember Bart Grossman and Bernd telling me, many years ago, that the IBCN was like a candle with a flame that was flickering. And if it wasn't for Peter Goebell, that flame would've died out many years ago. So congratulations to you, and it's been a pleasure for me to serve with you as co-president.

Now, with that being said, let me have you share some insights. What do you think is crucial to making an organization such as the IBCN, which is truly international, actually work?

Peter Goebell: I think it's, as I refer to it, it's the people, it's not the science. I mean, we are all interested in science, but over the years I learned it's the personal relation, it's the personal trust, it's the common interest to tackle things without being selfish. I mean the TMA bladder cancer project, for example, is a perfect example. So people were beyond borders, beyond obstacles, able to share material and data. And we'll continue to do this with the next platform, the IBCN Bank, which we appointed this year as one of the key projects actually, to really work together. But it's all shaped by people. I mean, the entire network, the entire society, if you will, is shaped by personal interaction, personal trust, personal interest beyond selfishness, and beyond looking at your own career. I think that is crucial for this type of society. And that is something that is something, so sorry to add this. This is something everyone who's attending the meeting and who's getting in touch with this network is feeling, this is the feedback we are getting.

Ashish Kamat: So Peter, again, very important point. It's all about people, collaboration, but share with us your insights, because clearly, IBCN is international. It includes people from different parts of Europe, not just the major countries, even the smaller countries. Some people from Asia have joined us as well. Of course, North America. How is it that an organization should trust the IBCN, which really is not very rich, it's not like we are able to provide a lot of money to the attendees for research projects. How is it that an organization such as the IBCN has been able to be successful for 25 years, when many others have not been as successful? Not to take it away from the others, but what is the secret sauce?

Peter Goebell: I think one of the secrets is probably in the very beginning, was to do this work in conjunction with other societies. So we really were limited on budget, and we were always trying to add a type of sponsorship, as I mentioned for SPORE, for example, some money from the European research societies, some money from the European funds. So each time, until I think 2010, we were able to cover our small meetings, basically with this type of research money. And from meeting to meeting, we had to search for another solution. In 2009, in Nuremberg, I introduced for the first time the idea that we should invite industry to our meetings, and in a way to interact with industry. So basically, like in an international advisory board, share insight into their pipelines, and their thoughts on bladder cancer, and in addition to share what we think will be the next topics, on hot topics in bladder cancer. And this way, we gained interest by industry, which ever since then supported the meetings. So work with industry becomes a crucial part of our current situation.

Ashish Kamat: Yeah. And work across all different barriers that might come up. No place or no institution is too small. What I've really enjoyed of the IBCN over the last 15, 20 years that I've been involved with it, and of course, as co-president with you, is the fact that we don't have people or institutions with big or small egos. Everybody is in there to do bladder cancer research, to work together. The chalkboard talks that we have, where young investigators are presenting their ideas in a nascent form, and we have the senior most people giving them ideas with no expectation of anything in return. Not that they want to be on the paper or the manuscript, but it's purely sharing ideas, it's been really, really refreshing to see.

Peter, you and I could chat forever, but of course in the interest of time, let me move on to the next set of questions. How do you see the IBCN maturing beyond 25 years? So what are you expecting for the next five, 10 years for the IBCN?

Peter Goebell: I think what will be important is, as you just said, is now we have a solid group with really solid work, and a history to look back, but looking forward would include, to me, to develop programs for exchange for younger people to really go into these labs, where some of the research presented is done, and to share, basically to share their ideas even after they have met all these experts. We have some personal careers, myself going to, from one of the IBCN meetings in Barcelona. Actually, the first meeting I went back having an opportunity for two lab terms in the US, and I finally then took one of these opportunities, together with Richard Cote in Los Angeles and actually John Stein, the urologist, crucial urologist to bladders and cystectomies, who unfortunately passed away much too early. He was the one who recommended me to go to Los Angeles.

I think what is important is to maintain the momentum we create in these very meetings, and to exceed this to exchange and fellowship programs, would be one of the key steps I think the IBCN should take in the future. Because, as you said, there are no egos expecting something in return, but there are so many brilliant young people who need support, and need support by experts, and what could be better than to really go to these places and work on an exchange platform? That's how I see the IBCN develop, despite our things we currently are doing with large international projects, which would be the second column.

Ashish Kamat: Yeah. What has been really encouraging for you and I, I think, and I know I'm not speaking or putting words in your mouth, is seeing how we are able to foster young individuals, who initially come to the meeting a little bit timid, then they get to meet all the experts. They grow, and many of them have now gone on to leadership positions, not just within the IBCN, but globally. I mean, we have people that are leading their own divisions and departments when it comes to bladder cancer research, large cooperative group studies. It's really excellent to see that, and I think the IBCN is unique, in the sense that it fosters young people to grow both within, but also, outside the organization. It's not that everything has to be done within the organization itself, which is wonderful.

Peter, in closing, let me leave you the stage, and maybe share with our young individuals who, we'll put the link to our website down below, so people can go and see the IBCN and join the organization. And hopefully, we'll see many of our listeners at next year's meeting, which is going to be in Montreal. But let me leave you with the closing few thoughts, some high level thoughts that you want to share with our audience about the IBCN moving forward.

Peter Goebell: Well, I think one of the key messages to young investigators is really, come join us. Don't be shy, and stay curious. I think this is the place where you find people who all started with their curiosity basically, and no ego driven research. They just are interested in what is the story behind bladder cancer, and how does it work? And it ever since has been this spirit, we call the Barcelona spirit, amongst us, and I can only open it up to you, as young investigators. Don't be shy. Join us. It is worth it.

Ashish Kamat: Excellent. Thank you once again, Peter, for taking the time. I know it's evening for you where you are. We won't keep you from dinner, but thank you very much for taking the time.

Peter Goebell: You're most welcome.