On the Road Again

On the Road Again

ASCO Commentary

Nov 12, 2014

By Richard L. Schilsky, MD, FASCO, Chief Medical Officer of ASCO. During the past six weeks I’ve had the opportunity to attend cancer meetings in four countries on three continents. In September, I represented ASCO at the annual meeting of the Chinese Society of Clinical Oncology (CSCO) in Xiamen, China. The meeting attracted more than 15,000 oncologists from across China and provided outstanding educational sessions as well as presentations of original research focusing on targeted therapies and use of biomarkers. CSCO’s president, Yi-Long Wu, and his leadership team are to be congratulated for organizing an outstanding program. Given that China will have, in the years ahead, the largest incident burden of cancer in the world, the annual CSCO meeting is key to ensuring that Chinese oncologists are well equipped with contemporary information and practice guidelines.

In October, I was honored to give the keynote address at the first annual Applied Genomics Symposium organized by Princess Margaret Hospital in Toronto, Canada. Current ASCO Board member Lillian Siu and colleagues developed an outstanding meeting that focused on the development and use of next-generation sequencing technologies to support innovative cancer clinical trials and personalized medicine strategies in clinical practice throughout Canada. It was great to meet 2012 Conquer Cancer Foundation Young Investigator Award grantee Nikhil Wagle, who was invited to discuss his research at this symposium.

Next I traveled to the Algarve region of Portugal to participate in a course on translational cancer research organized by the EuroCan Platform, a consortium of 23 European cancer centers and 5 cancer organizations that work together on a range of translational cancer research projects that span the continuum of care, from cancer prevention to biomarker-driven treatment trials to health economic assessments of new therapies. The participants in the translational research course are junior faculty from academic institutions throughout Europe who come together for a week to learn the fundamentals of translational cancer research and develop new friendships and collaborations in a beautiful ocean-side setting.

From Portugal I traveled to Lugano, Switzerland, to attend the World Oncology Forum organized by Franco Cavalli and the European School of Oncology. This meeting, first held in 2012, brought together leaders in cancer research, care, and policy from around the world, including representatives of the World Health Organization, the Union for International Cancer Control (UICC), the International Agency for Research of Cancer (IARC), the American Cancer Society, the Latin-American and Caribbean Society of Medical Oncology (SLACOM), and the Brazilian National Cancer Institute, among many others. Through two days of provocative lectures and engaging discussion, the forum tackled issues such as the global burden of cancer, access and affordability of cancer care, assessing the value of new cancer treatments, and the challenges of translating basic science into new treatments. It was fascinating to hear the perspective of cancer experts from around the globe and to recognize that much of the world’s burden of cancer can be eliminated or greatly reduced by ensuring broad adoption of policies and access to treatments already known to be effective, such as tobacco control, vaccination against infectious agents known to cause cancer, access to radiotherapy facilities, and distribution of opioid pain killers to those in need. I learned that, remarkably, countries that harbor 65% of cancer cases consume only 5% of cancer drugs and that 80% of the cancers in the world can be treated effectively with 17 generic cancer drugs!

To be sure, it’s been a busy six weeks but it’s been interesting and inspiring as well. There is a palpable sense of optimism among all the cancer scientists and physicians I met and excitement about the recent progress in cancer research and that yet to come. There is a burgeoning new generation of oncologists in China and Europe who will be well equipped to deal with the enormous global burden of cancer that looms on the horizon. There is clear recognition of the important work of ASCO on many fronts and of the leadership shown by our Society in cancer education, research, and policy. 

But there is also widespread concern that not all patients with cancer around the globe have access to known effective treatments or opportunities to receive contemporary multidisciplinary cancer care; that not all governments have the resources, or in some cases the political will, to implement strong cancer control policies; and that the cost of recently introduced treatments will make them inaccessible to all but the wealthiest nations and individuals. Clearly ASCO, and the global community at large, must continue to work to ensure not only continued progress against cancer but also that the progress made is accessible to everyone in need.

Richard L. Schilsky, MD, FASCO, is the Chief Medical Officer (CMO) of ASCO.  Formerly the Chief of Hematology/Oncology in the Department of Medicine and Deputy Director of the University of Chicago Comprehensive Cancer Center, he is a highly respected leader in the field of clinical oncology who specializes in new drug development and treatment of gastrointestinal cancers. Dr. Schilsky is a Past President of ASCO, having served in the role during 2008-2009, and also a Past Chair of one of the National Cancer Institute’s Cooperative Groups, Cancer and Leukemia Group B (CALGB). @rschilsky

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