ASCO: A World of Innovation and Hope
By: Susan Kjellqvist, Director of Development
As someone with a non-medical professional background attending ASCO for the first time, it was truly an exciting and somewhat overwhelming experience. The conference was held at the mega-conference center, McCormick Place in Chicago, which is the largest convention center in all of North America with 2.6 MILLION square feet of exhibit space. I was last there for a convention about twenty years ago, but somehow the space seemed even larger this time around. That could be partially due to the many elaborate high-tech exhibits with huge screens, 3-D effects, coffee/tea bars, and delicious snacks and treats to enjoy while hearing the latest in oncology breakthroughs, clinical trials, biomarker testing innovations, etc. Tired feet? Take a load off at almost any exhibit booth providing comfortable sofas and lounge areas to enjoy while hearing the latest on a company’s latest clinical trial successes.
Beyond the spectacle of the exhibit spaces, the presence of such a vast number of pharmaceutical, testing, clinical research, and other companies that support oncology at ASCO presented a tremendous opportunity to connect with both current and potential corporate LCI partners. I spoke to representatives from a wide variety of companies, and was able to learn a great deal about lung cancer treatments, trials, and projects in the pipeline that hold great promise. Among the companies I spoke with were some that offer multi-cancer early detection (MCED) tests, providing screening for a variety of cancers with a single blood draw. This type of non-invasive screening offers great potential for improving early detection of lung cancer and survival, and I look forward to seeing how it will impact lung cancer screening in the future.
In addition to the corporate exhibits, there were also many research presentations featured each day. Though I am not a medical professional, I decided to attend a few of the lung cancer-related presentations to see if I could glean some general idea of where research is headed and what new treatments may be in the pipeline for this disease. There were studies dealing with antibody drug conjugates (ADCs), neoantigen therapy, TTFields (tumor treating fields) therapy, among others. It seems that scientists are exploring a broad range of treatment options, and many are showing promising results that bode well for continued improvements and development of these therapies. I look forward to hearing more about ASCO research updates from the medical community in the coming weeks.
As I sat among thousands of researchers in massive auditoriums or walked the enormous halls among a sea of people, I admit I was a bit awestruck at the presence of so much brilliance coming together in one single place from every corner of the world sharing a common goal of solving the great puzzle of cancer. After so many years of little progress in the field, it seems that over the past 40 years, the convergence of genetic science, immunotherapy breakthroughs, and computer science to help process all this information faster than ever is leading to unprecedented innovation. Furthermore, many companies appear to be focusing significant resources and effort on lung cancer, which is encouraging. Lung cancer advocacy has also played an important role in raising awareness and research funding for lung cancer, and numerous cancer advocacy groups also had a presence at ASCO.* It’s amazing to see how far we have come in a relatively short time and to imagine where we might be in 5-10 years.
While it is exciting to see the research advancing so rapidly, it unfortunately isn’t fast enough for many survivors, and that is still the reality of the situation for those facing lung cancer and many other types of cancer. But one thing we all hold on to, and that events like ASCO help to build and inspire, is hope. And for those of us working in lung cancer advocacy, hope is everything!
*Note: Many thanks to the sponsors of the ASCO Patient Advocacy Lounge, including Daiichi-Sankyo, Eisai, Genentech, Rising Tide and Mr. William Coulbourne. I truly appreciated having that available during my long days at ASCO!