Being ASCO president is a great honor. We’re picked by our peers to help lead the Society and we, in conjunction with our Chief Executive Officer and other staff, we direct the resources of our members toward furthering the aims of our Society, that is, maintaining access to patients with cancer and to treat them.
My theme for the Annual Meeting is “Delivering Discoveries: Expanding the Reach of Precision Medicine.” One of the things those of us who work in academic centers have been able to benefit from is the ongoing information about extensive genomic characterization of tumors and how that can influence treatment. And one of the things that we wanted to embark on during the year is to make this more widely available not only in academic practices, but also in community and hospital-affiliated practices.
Precision medicine has been defined by the National Institutes of Health as an emerging approach for disease treatment and prevention that takes into account individual variability in genes, environment, and lifestyle for each person. A simpler way of thinking of it is the right drug for the right person at the right time.
The oncology care team can make this available more widely by being able to deploy genomic testing, that is, to characterize the patient’s tumor for the genetic changes that are unique to that tumor. They can also study it for potential predictors of response to immunotherapy drugs, the checkpoint inhibitors and other agents that are effective against a wide variety of cancers. And lastly, they can deploy clinical support measures that help prompt what the appropriate drug is to give for that patient’s individual tumor.
I’ve worked in lung cancer all my life and that has been one of the cancers that’s been the most difficult to treat. For instance, it’s the leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States. And one of the things that we’ve been able to do is identify subsets where we can have effective therapies.
Another major advance in precision medicine that’s taken place in lung cancer is the efficacy of immunotherapy.
One of my own personal experiences has been one of my patients that I put on a trial of a combination of the checkpoint inhibitor plus another drug, and she’s had almost no side effects. She’s been able to go hiking in Alaska, has been able to walk down to the bottom of the Grand Canyon, all while taking her protocol therapy. So for her, not only is she living longer; she’s been at this now for a year and a half, but she’s also living better.
Elaine: After my first initial treatments, when the first CT scan came up, it showed significant shrinking of the tumors, so that was a very promising report to hear. And it’s just kind of gone forward from there that the treatment’s been working beautifully. It’s just so wonderful that I’ve been able to carry on like there is nothing wrong. To me that’s just amazing and a blessing and all those adjectives.
ASCO is committed to making these advances available around the world so that it doesn’t make a great deal of difference where you’re born or where you live to get access to these latest advances in treatment.