Tales from BIO: How the conference influences my treatment

Hillary Clinton, more immunotherapy talk, even more personalized medicine talk, and exhibitor-hopping highlighted the second day of BIO in San Diego this week.  

After skipping Sir Richard Branson’s keynote due to absurdly long entrance lines, I wasn’t surprised that convention-goers were lined up 2+ hours beforehand to see the former First Lady speak Wednesday.  Being part of the “press corps”, we got to bypass the line and sit at one of the reserved tables near the front, a literal stone’s throw from the stage.  It was getting a FastPass to the most popular Disney ride.  We even got a better seat than Bill Walton.  

Over an hour of conversation with BIO CEO, Philly native, and former PA Congressman Jim Greenwood, Clinton alternated between biotech topics and the requisite political talk (summarized by a few media outlets).  It included a few potshots at Putin (“the way he chooses to demonstrate greatness is through intimidation and annexation”) and sidestepping of 2016 plans (yea, she’s running, it’s only a matter of time and more book-signings before it is official).

Politics aside (mostly), hearing someone with her resume speak is a unique experience.  The relevant biotech talk centered on GMO foods and climate change.  For the former, the talk centered on labeling and GMO adoption; while the crowd was decidedly pro-GMO and anti-labeling, Clinton was surprisingly objective in discussing those hot-button topics with Greenwood.  She asked if seeds were called “drought resistant” if that would change public perception, and raised a legitimate question of the “lesser of two evils” between GMO crops or reduced harvests, especially in areas hit by famine or food shortages. 

Of course, one moderate, logical answer does not take the politics out of the politician, as evidence by Clinton claiming climate change is a “national security threat”.   BIO non-cancer tangent – climate change IS real but IS NOT a national security threat, and saying so only serves to get climate change deniers dug in more on their absurd notion that industrialization is having no effect on the planet.  Politicians, generally well-educated people, can make some of the dumbest statements while trying to stick to party/political talking points, when merely relying on facts is more than enough.  Clinton even said as much, noting 90% of scientists believe in global warming and its potentially disastrous effects, stating “The debate is settled.  What’s not settled is, ‘What are we going to do about the debate?’”.  Hillary, quit muddying the waters by throwing in “national security” like climate change is analogous to terrorism.  You have a legitimate case for pushing biotechnology advances to fight rising tides and warmer temperatures, don’t toss in military-shaded buzzwords for something corporate and government can affect immediately.  (end rant… can’t wait to push the buttons of a few strong-minded political friends on Facebook with this debate).

Outside of Presidental hopefuls, there was some science, too.  A few sessions touched on oncology and immunotherapy.  It was one thing for PD-1 to be the talk of ASCO, but its full impact is apparent when it is also a big deal at a conference with the breadth of BIO.  One brought up changing the paradigm in oncology, and that new cancer treatments need to be pushed forward to the entire oncology community, from the internists on up.  It had one of the largest turnouts of any track offering at the conference, showing the push from the science side is being met with equal engagement from the industry side.

Louise Perkins from the MRA moderated another session discussing the progress made in immunotherapy treatments, many of which she touched on in the ASCO Q&A post.  It was wider than just melanoma, with immunotherapy trials underway across multiple cancers.  There were a few things that were new to me – I didn’t know there was a second anti-CTLA4 antibody that failed in melanoma clinical trials (Tremelimumab, which is still active in clinical trials for multiple cancers), and cytokine therapies are much more diverse and promising than the IL-2 I got as part of my first trial.  One of the best takeaways for me, though, was what I shared with Louise after her session - this stuff is actually starting to make sense to me.  It’s not quite “Doctor Sharpe” yet, but being able to understand most of their talking points (and even mentally think up coherent responses to audience questions) gave a feeling of accomplishment amongst the overwhelming-ness of the two conventions. I actually “get” this stuff now.

Personalized medicine and exhibit hall stories from both BIO and DIA are coming early next week.  In the meantime, pembrolizumab dose #22 is nearly complete, and it’s about time to catch up on some sleep after 10 days on the road and a long red-eye flight to Florida (through Atlanta).  It was great to experience two conferences having direct influence on my treatment, but it was really nice to be home and have Tommy, then Josie, climb into bed this morning to snuggle with Daddy.



T.J. Sharpe shares his fight against Stage 4 Melanoma in the Patient #1 blog. Read more »