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May 6, 2021

In this episode, Dr. Taofeek Owonikoko, lung cancer specialist at the Winship Cancer Institute at Emory University and chair of the 2021 ASCO Annual Meeting Education Program, discusses the diverse ways that cancer care equity 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. Taofeek Owonikoko, a lung cancer specialist at the Winship Cancer Institute at Emory University. Dr. Owonikoko serves as the chair of the education program of the 2021 ASCO Annual Meeting. And he's here to tell us about the diverse sessions that will be featured this year.

Dr. Owonikoko reports no conflicts of interest relating to our discussion today. His full disclosures and those relating to old episodes of the podcast are available at Dr. Owonikoko, it's great to have you on the podcast today.

Dr. Taofeek Owonikoko: Thank you. Glad to be here.

ASCO Daily News: Health equity is the major theme of this year's Annual Meeting. And as you know, ASCO's President, Dr. Lori Pierce, has been focusing on patient care equity during her term. Can you tell us about how the concept of cancer care equity has been incorporated into the education program this year?

Dr. Taofeek Owonikoko: Thank you very much. I actually want to use this opportunity for us to thank all the ASCO volunteers, who spent countless hours putting together a very educational program for the Annual Meeting.

It's very difficult for me to come out and say [that] this is the best session to go to. I think all of the sessions are very important and educational. The challenges that we've faced with COVID-19 that is making this a virtual meeting, actually, I think is an opportunity for people to be able to participate in all these sessions.

Having said that, there are some sessions that we intentionally placed within the Education Program based on how important we felt these topics were to our patients, to their caregivers, family members, and also to ASCO members. We want sessions that focus on various aspects of health equity from individual patient interaction with their providers, to patient experience within the larger context of how health care systems are built, and how we deliver care.

Some of the sessions that I really encourage members to listen to and participate in will be--there is a session that is going to bring diverse viewpoints from across the world, not just in the U.S. We want to see how oncologists practice in a limited resource setting, how they go about taking care of patients, and how they are able to use the challenges that they face as a stepping stone to bring the best care forward for that patient.

So we have this session where we're going to have a speaker from Uganda in Africa. We have another speaker from Pakistan representing the Asian viewpoint. We are going to have a speaker who will speak to delivering care to the inner city population here in the U.S. And that session will also have a speaker that will discuss how we take care of our patients within the Native American community here in the U.S.

So you're going to see these diverse viewpoints that we feel will shed light on the important point that Dr. Pierce has been trying to make with the presidential theme, that we need to focus on every patient, everywhere in terms of equitable care delivery.

ASCO Daily News: Intersectionality in cancer care is a topic that has been getting more attention over the past year. How will this issue be addressed during the Education Program?

Dr. Taofeek Owonikoko: We've talked about determinants of health outcomes for patients. How we look at all of these issues in isolation, whether it's gender, sexual orientation, race or ethnic background, rural versus urban, big city versus small towns, and different regions of the world. There's actually now this emerging consensus that a lot of these factors actually do not stand alone.

There is an intersection of where someone lives and what type of access they have to health care--where someone lives and what type of care providers, someone's gender, and their socioeconomic status influencing the outcomes of care that they get.

So this session on intersectionality, I think will really bring this to the forefront of our discussion about how to address health inequities--that we don't want to focus on one issue at a time. All these issues are important and they are interrelated. I think this type of session will help all of us to understand that there's a lot going on that determines the outcome for patients, especially for patients with cancer.

One additional session I want to highlight, which is also very important to the presidential theme is the session on viruses and cancer. While there is this pandemic with the COVID-19 virus that we are very aware of, what we also did not want to lose sight of is the fact that viruses are etiology for cancer. This has been a topic that we've been struggling with for decades.

And now that everyone is paying attention to the COVID-19 virus and development of a vaccine to prevent the infection or make the severity less for those who eventually get infected, I think we also need to bring that focus back to what viruses have done as etiology for different types of cancer--from either neck cancer to cervical cancer to liver cancer.

And bringing this session together which speaks to how viral infection could be a key driver of the geographical differences in incidence of cancer around the world, I think will be very important for ASCO members and the general audience attending the meeting.

ASCO Daily News: Absolutely, well you spoke about the pandemic and of course today health care inequality is more relevant than ever. As you say, the pandemic has disproportionately affected people of color, so clearly changes must occur if the oncology field if it is to make strides in improving outcomes for patients of color, increasing representation in clinical trials, for example, improving access to precision medicine and more. So what do you hope that people will take away from this meeting, that will stay with them in the months and years ahead?

Dr. Taofeek Owonikoko: Yeah, I'm very hopeful that at the end of the Annual Meeting, with all the offerings we have in terms of educational sessions and topical issues that we want to address and some of them very provocative, we will learn that we have to be honest and open. Some of these issues are not easy to discuss, but we have to confront them if we are going to get past that, and not just brush them aside but actually have genuine discussion and be open about what the challenges are.

I think that, when we look at the impact of cancer care delivery and the disparate outcomes that we see across different minority communities, including people of color, this doesn't just start from where you're delivering care, it also has to do with how we actually develop treatments that are given to patients. And nothing brings that to the surface [more] than what we've observed in terms of participation of people of color in cancer clinical trials. I know that this is a vaccine issue it's not something that I just started today, but we have to then become more systematic as to how we address it.

If we are going to develop drugs that are going to be applicable to all populations, we have to be intentional in making sure that we have equitable and fair representation of all people, and that the treatment would be applicable too, so that we can start learning right from the beginning of the earliest stages of drug development. Whether there are unique differences in the way these drugs work, whether there are cultural influences that would determine whether or not the way we want to administer the drug is going to have any impact. And I want to use this to highlight one session that we have put together that's going to talk about minority patient enrollment in clinical trials.

This session is not about the problem. We all recognize what the problem is. This is actually a session that is meant to show potential solutions, where we invited experienced investigators in this area to talk about gaps in how we conduct clinical trials, and what can be done to improve that process.

They will talk about communications and blind-spots that we as oncologists and investigators may not even be aware of when we talk about clinical trials and we want someone to participate--what are the things that we can do to make sure that we convey the information about this study in a culturally appropriate manner, so that our own attitude of presenting the trial does not alienate and discourage participation from people of color and other minority groups?

And then, there will be a talk about a real world experience of a large trial where key factors led to success in recruiting people of color on a large randomized phase III trial of prostate cancer that will be shown and shared with the audience.

And people can take this back home to their individual practices and countries to see whether or not some of these strategies will also be applicable to them to help get around this problem of poor enrollment of minority patients in cancer clinical trials.

ASCO Daily News: Thank you, Dr. Owonikoko, for highlighting some of these important issues on minority enrollment in cancer clinical trials, intersectionality, and cancer care, the management of DNA virus associated cancers, and the always popular ASCO voices session, which this year will use the power of the narrative to advocate for equity in cancer care. Dr. Owonikoko, thank you again for taking the time to speak with me today.

Dr. Taofeek Owonikoko: Thank you.

ASCO Daily News: And thank you to our listeners for joining us as well. If you're enjoying the content on the podcast, please take a moment to rate, and review us wherever you get your podcasts.


Disclosures: Dr. Taofeek Owonikoko

Stock and Other Ownership Interests: Cambium Oncology

Consulting or Advisory Role: Novartis, Celgene, Abbvie, Eisai, G1 Therapeutics, Takeda, Bristol-Myers Squibb, MedImmune, BerGenBio, Lilly, Amgen, AstraZeneca, PharmaMar, Boehringer Ingelheim, EMD Serono, Xcovery, Bayer, Merck, Jazz Pharmaceuticals, Zentalis, Wells Fargo, Ipsen, Eisai, Roche/Genentech, Janssen

Speakers' Bureau: Abbvie

Research Funding (Institution): Novartis, Astellas Pharma, Bayer, Regeneron, AstraZeneca/MedImmune, Abbvie, G1 Therapeutics, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Corvus Pharmaceuticals, United Therapeutics, Amgen, Loxo/Lilly, Fujifilm, Pfizer, Aeglea Biotherapeutics, Incyte, Merck, Oncorus, Ipsen, GlaxoSmithKline, Calithera Biosciences, Eisai, WindMIL, Turning Point Therapeutics, Roche/Genentech, Mersana, Meryx, Boehringer Ingelheim

Patents, Royalties, Other Intellectual Property (Institution): OVERCOMING ACQUIRED RESISTANCE TO CHEMOTHERAPY TREATMENTS THROUGH SUPPRESSION OF STAT3, SELECTIVE CHEMOTHERAPY TREATMENTS AND DIAGNOSTIC METHODS RELATED THERETO, DR4 Modulation and its Implications in EGFR-Target Cancer Therapy Ref:18089 PROV (CSP) United States Patent Application No. 62/670,210 June 26, 2018 (Co-Inventor), Soluble FAS ligand as a biomarker of recurrence in thyroid cancer; provisional patent 61/727,519 (Inventor)

Other Relationship: Roche/Genentech, EMD Serono

Uncompensated Relationships: Reflexion Medical

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.