Some Science: My Annual Meeting

Some Science: My Annual Meeting

George W. Sledge, MD, FASCO

Jun 09, 2011
One of the sad aspects of being President of ASCO is that you rarely get to attend sessions that you are not either chairing or speaking in. It is therefore entirely likely that I missed some of the coolest stuff that was presented at this year’s Meeting. I will be busy perusing the Virtual Meeting for weeks to come, catching up on sessions I missed, particularly my first love of breast cancer. I believe I saw all of an hour of one breast cancer session this year.

On the other hand, I did have the opportunity to see some wonderful presentations. The Plenary Session, as always, had some top-notch clinical science, true practice-changing work. This was the year of small tumors: the plenary session had two pediatric oncology presentations (ALL and neuroblastoma), a GIST presentation, and two melanoma talks. There was no particular design in this. The Scientific Program Committee chooses the best science to present, and this year the five practice-changing abstracts chosen all happened to be in relatively rare cancers, rather than the usual Breast, Colon, Lung, and Prostate tetralogy.

Melanoma stole the show. If you had told me, two years ago, that we would have three positive Phase III trials in metastatic melanoma—positive for overall survival—I would have laughed at the preposterousness of the suggestion. Metastatic melanoma, after all, is one of those cancers (pancreatic cancer is another) that give cancer a bad name. To have two novel agents, working through different mechanisms (immunologic modulation and growth pathway inhibition) prolonging survival is stupendous news for a field that has wandered in the desert for decades.

Sitting on the dais with Kathy Miller, this year’s Scientific Program Committee chair, one could feel the excitement of the audience over this work. I shared it. This is great news, though (as any honest observer would tell you), it is only a start. Metastatic melanoma remains a dangerous disease, resistance mechanisms are common, and one dumb tumor is still smarter than ten smart oncologists. But having two new drugs to play with implies several things to the average clinical trialist. We can move both drugs “up front” into an adjuvant setting. We can combine the two new active agents. And we can explore, and perhaps overcome (as another abstract in which BRAF and MEK inhibitors were combined suggests) resistance. In short, we can see several ways forward.

I also loved Ken Anderson’s Karnofsky Award address on Saturday morning. Ken pretty much defines what it means to be a translational scientist. Translational science became a buzzword several years ago, and generally an abused one designed to improve one’s odds of grant funding. But Ken Anderson is the real deal. He moves back and forth and back again between clinic and lab with an ease that regularly impresses, and his Boston group has been responsible for many of the research advances that have helped to transform multiple myeloma in recent years. I had myeloma envy by the end of his talk. He is also a genuinely nice guy. A well-deserved award, if ever there was one.


The ideas and opinions expressed on the ASCO Connection Blogs do not necessarily reflect those of ASCO. None of the information posted on is intended as medical, legal, or business advice, or advice about reimbursement for health care services. The mention of any product, service, company, therapy or physician practice on does not constitute an endorsement of any kind by ASCO. ASCO assumes no responsibility for any injury or damage to persons or property arising out of or related to any use of the material contained in, posted on, or linked to this site, or any errors or omissions.

Back to Top