ASCO 2014 was more than just big headlines – press releases trickled in for the entire week afterwards, and while the major announcements hit the wires in real time, the smaller findings and stories had their time to shine, too. Here is a little more insight about the future of cancer research presented at the ASCO annual meeting at the beginning of June, and a few more tales of my beleaguered attempts to capture them.
Let’s start with the poster sessions — picture your local science fair, except replace the dioramas with whiteboard-sized layouts detailing the methods, analysis, and conclusions for dozens and dozens of research trials completed (or, in some cases, ongoing) worldwide. They are significant in both involvement and investment – even small Phase I trials cost, at a minimum, hundreds of thousands of dollars, and can easily top 7 figures; Phase II and III trials for larger drugs are in the hundreds of millions of dollars and can approach or exceed $1 billion. Many of those significant findings started out as a poster of initial investigator results years before hitting the market. Wonder why your insurance premiums are so high? The escalating cost of cancer research, and resulting treatment prices, are partially responsible.
While the biggest announcements happened during the scheduled presentations, the posters revealed insight into the smaller gains being made in research. Not every advancement has made the international splash that PD-1 has; but it also doesn’t mean they are insignificant. The breadth of research is staggering – the GSK COMBI-d study in 14 different countries was a reminder how global this issue really is. For melanoma, BRAF + MEK inhibitors, viral cancer vaccines, PV-10, PD-1 combination therapies, and several others were highlighted in posters and discussions. The last session I attended touched on PD-1, Yervoy, and TIL/IL-2 therapies. It’s like they designed that series of presentations specifically for me - Alex from the MRA even suggested I stand up on display next to the presentation.
Let's move on to the ASCO attendees – remember, this wasn’t your average “vacation from the office” conference, these people mean business. While Americana was still sleeping, making breakfast, or getting ready for church, sports, beach, and summer picnics on Saturday and Sunday morning, 33,000 people in Chicago were dressed in business wear and absorbing detailed oncology studies at 8 a.m. Most of these guys and gals are stat geeks (while not close to 50/50, women have a much larger presence in the pharma/oncology world than when I worked in the industry in the late 90’s). If you liked your science AND statistics classes in school, like my buddy Cuz, cancer research conferences are for you.