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May 20, 2021

Dr. Norah Henry, Breast Oncology Disease Lead at the University of Michigan’s Rogel Cancer Center, and chair of the 2021 ASCO Annual Meeting Scientific Program, highlights key abstracts and a host of dynamic sessions on equity and innovation in cancer research that will be featured during #ASCO21.



ASCO Daily News: Welcome to the ASCO Daily News podcast. I'm Geraldine Carroll, a reporter for the ASCO Daily News. My guest today is Dr. Nora Henry, who is the breast oncology disease lead at the University of Michigan's Rogel Cancer Center. She is chair of the 2021 ASCO Annual Meeting Scientific Program, and joins me to highlight key abstracts and a host of dynamic sessions that will be featured during the meeting.

Dr. Henry reports no conflicts of interest relating to our discussion today and full disclosures relating to all episodes of the podcast are available at Dr. Henry, welcome to the ASCO Daily News podcast.

Dr. Norah Henry: Hi, and thank you so much for inviting me.

ASCO Daily News: Dr. Henry, I think everyone is curious to know what the hot topics will be at the Annual Meeting. So what are the disease sites that are showing tremendous progress this year?

Dr. Norah Henry: Yeah, the last year has obviously been challenging because of the pandemic. That clearly hasn't stopped researchers around the world from continuing their exciting work and submitting their findings for presentation at the upcoming ASCO Annual Meeting. I strongly encourage everyone to attend the Plenary Session on Sunday, June 6, at which time we'll be highlighting practice-changing global research in breast cancer, nasopharyngeal cancer, cervical cancer, prostate cancer, and kidney cancer.

In addition to what is being presented in the Plenary Session, please also be sure to check out the Oral Abstract Sessions, Clinical Science Symposia, Poster Discussion Sessions, and Poster Sessions for each of the tracks you're interested in, as well as the Highlights of the Day sessions. As you will see, there has been exciting progress across the spectrum of malignancies, especially with targeted therapies and immunotherapy.

I have to say it's really difficult to narrow the abstracts down to just one or two key headlines. One study that comes to mind is an update of the EORTC 1325 KEYNOTE, 054 study by Dr. Eggermont and colleagues Abstract 9500. At the ASCO Annual Meeting they're reporting important findings about the use of pembrolizumab in patients with high risk stage III melanoma, who were initially treated with placebo, and who crossed over to pembrolizumab, or who were re-challenged with pembrolizumab after recurrence of disease.

In hematologic malignancies, Dr. Byrd will present the results of the head-to-head comparison, a frontline acalabrutinib versus ibrutinib for CLL. That's Abstract 7500. And there's a third example, Dr. Wakeley will present Abstract 8500. The results of a phase III trial studying maintenance immunotherapy versus best supportive care in patients with stage II and III non-small cell lung cancer. These are just three examples of the tremendous progress that is being reported at this meeting from across the spectrum of oncology.

In addition to these sessions I would also like to highlight the three special Clinical Science Symposia that are centered around the themes across multiple tracks. These are scheduled for live broadcast on Saturday, Sunday, and Monday with Q&A to follow. One session is about the use of artificial intelligence and machine learning in oncology, with a focus on its use in radiology and pathology (Artificial Intelligence: Optimizing Cancer Care Using Imagine and Pathology). This is a rapidly expanding area of interest and with potential implications for improving the care of patients around the world.

The second session is about virally-induced cancers, including those screening and use of virus-related biomarkers for tailoring treatment (Virally Induced Cancers: Epidemiology and Biomarker-Guided Care). Finally, the third session is highlighting key studies that demonstrate how to implement research findings into clinical care with an emphasis on reducing disparities and opioid use in patients with cancer (Novel Initiatives to Address Disparities in Cancer). 

Overall, the Scientific Program includes potentially practice-changing research findings from across oncology and hematology, including results of trials of novel therapies, studies examining tailoring of treatment based on biomarkers, and studies evaluating approaches to improve quality of life and reduce symptoms. We invite everyone to join us.

ASCO Daily News: That sounds like a great variety of sessions and some incredible advances in cancer care. The theme of the Annual Meeting this year is equity. Can you tell us how this is incorporated into the Scientific Program?

Dr. Norah Henry: Certainly. So this year's presidential theme is equity. Every patient, every day, everywhere. And this statement really underlies everything that we do and strive for. And therefore, we have tried to incorporate it throughout the Scientific Program. You'll see glimpses of it throughout the meeting, especially within the insightful presentations of the abstract discussions. And also, as I mentioned earlier, the special Clinical Science Symposia that will be broadcast on Saturday morning is focused on implementation science. And the abstracts selected for that session are related to disparities.

Key work will be highlighted from a number of institutions that demonstrate how to successfully increase accrual of Black participants on clinical trials, how to reduce time to lung cancer surgery using an anti-racism intervention, and how to reduce unnecessary or inappropriate opioid use, both in the perioperative setting and also in patients with cancer more broadly. These investigators have done excellent work developing and implementing these interventions. And I encourage everyone to attend the session so they can get ideas for how to reduce disparities and improve equity at their own institutions.

ASCO Daily News: Well, Dr. Henry this is our second virtual Annual Meeting. And there's no doubt that some aspects of the virtual format are here to stay as they enable more people across the globe to learn about new developments in cancer care. And it can spare others the time and cost of traveling to the meeting. When you think about the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on how knowledge is shared within the oncology community, and the expanded use of telemedicine, for example, what are your thoughts on how the oncology community will emerge from the pandemic?

Dr. Norah Henry: Thank you. And I find this to be a very difficult question, but obviously very timely. You know, I hope that this experience will have been an opportunity for us to grow as a community, and overall make changes for the better. Obviously, we were forced to make rapid changes last year as everything quickly became virtual. This year, however, we've had more time to plan and technology has advanced. And therefore, ASCO 2021 promises to be a very different experience compared to last year, with significantly more opportunities for interaction. Going forward, I think it'll be important to maintain some of these changes to the format.

Having at least a portion of the meeting be virtual and interactive will allow more people from around the world, from oncologists to trainees to patients and patient advocates, to participate in the meeting in a meaningful way. Obviously, if you don't have to travel, there are upsides to that because it definitely allows more people to participate. But there are downsides as well in terms of decreased ability to have interactions as you meet (peers) in the hall, as we always do when we're in Chicago.

But I think that with technological advances it'll be easier to do that going forward. Enabling more participation is truly a win for everyone. Also, from a patient care perspective, we now all have substantial experience with telehealth, whether we want it or not,  which is I think another positive that has come out of the pandemic. Using telemedicine, we are able to better follow up with our patients with less inconvenience, cost and hassle. This can certainly help improve access for patients.

But we also need to ensure that better access is available across the board, and that patients who live in rural areas, for example, or who don't have a fast internet connection aren't left out from these improvements. So I think overall I'm very enthusiastic and hopeful that we can all learn from our experiences during the past year, and use this new knowledge to improve the care of our patients and the lives of both patients and providers alike.

ASCO Daily News: Thank you Dr. Henry for that hopeful message, and for your efforts to put together a really robust and dynamic Scientific Program.

Dr. Norah Henry: Thank you very much. And I really hope everyone thoroughly enjoys the meeting and is able to learn a lot about the new research advances that are ongoing, as well as take advantage of the excellent educational programming that will be going on simultaneously.

ASCO Daily News: Absolutely. And thank you to our listeners for your time today. If you enjoyed this episode, please take a moment to rate and review us wherever you get your podcasts.


Disclosures: Dr. Norah Henry

Research Funding (Institution): Pfizer, Abbvie


Disclaimer: The purpose of this podcast is to educate and to inform. This is not a substitute for professional medical care and is not intended for use in the diagnosis or treatment of individual conditions. Guests on this podcast express their own opinions, experience, and conclusions. The mention of any product, service, organization, activity, or therapy should not be construed as an ASCO endorsement.