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Apr 14, 2022

Host Dr. John Sweetenham, associate director for Clinical Affairs at UT Southwestern Harold C. Simmons Comprehensive Center, and Dr. Robert Carlson, CEO of the National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN), discuss novel therapies and compelling health equity research featured at the 2022 NCCN Annual Conference.




Dr. John Sweetenham: Hello, I'm John Sweetenham, the associate director for Clinical Affairs at UT Southwestern's Harold C. Simmons Comprehensive Cancer Center, and host of the ASCO Daily News podcast.


Today, I'll be speaking with Dr. Robert Carlson, the chief executive officer of the National Comprehensive Cancer Network or NCCN. Dr. Carlson will be telling us about key advances in cancer care that were featured at the 2022 NCCN Annual Conference.


Our full disclosures are available in the show notes and disclosures of all guests on the podcast can be found on our transcripts at


Bob, I'm really pleased to have you on the podcast today, and personally very excited to serve in my new role as chair of the NCCN Board of Directors.


Dr. Robert Carlson: John, it's a pleasure to be with you this morning and all of us at NCCN look forward to working with you as chair of the NCCN Board of Directors.


Dr. John Sweetenham: Thank you! Bob, there was such a wide breadth of topics that were covered at the NCCN Annual Conference this year. Could you tell us about some of the key abstracts that you think will advance care for patients?


Dr. Robert Carlson: I’d be happy to! We had over 1,000 participants from 40 countries at this year's Annual Meeting. And there were a number of high-quality abstracts reporting on a spectrum of studies, including NCCN young investigators and a number of other investigators.


Three abstracts that I would like to single out include an abstract entitled, “Real-World Data and Independent Predictors of Clinical Outcomes with CDK Inhibitors in Metastatic Estrogen receptor-positive Breast Cancer Patients” which was presented by Priyanka Reddy and colleagues from Case Western Reserve. They assessed how the real-world experience with the CDK 4/6 inhibitors in hormone receptor-positive metastatic breast cancer compared with a clinical trial experience. They retrospectively identified 269 patients with hormone receptor-positive metastatic breast cancer in the first-line setting and assessed progression-free survival and overall survival in the cohort overall, and also in the subset with bone-only metastatic disease in those who had liver involvement.


In the overall cohort, the results demonstrated progression-free survival of 21 and a half months and overall survival of 57.6 months. In those with the bone-only disease, at 5 years, 84% of patients were alive compared with 42% in those with bone plus other visceral sites of disease.


They performed multivariate cox regression, and bone-only disease was an independent predictor of a favorable outcome with a hazard rate of 0.48 for progression-free survival, and 0.38 for overall survival, both highly statistically significant.


In those patients with liver disease, multivariable regression predicted an unfavorable outcome with a hazard ratio of 2.53 for progression-free survival and 2.24 for overall survival. So, the study found that the real-world experience with the CDK 4/6 inhibitors is very similar to that in clinical trials. And that bone-only disease continues to be a positive predictor of outcome and liver disease an unfavorable predictor of outcome.


Another important abstract was entitled, “Reuterin in the Healthy Gut Microbiome Suppresses Colorectal Cancer Growth through Altered Redox Balance,” and was presented by Joshua Goyert and colleagues from the University of Michigan.


This abstract reported on a series of findings related to alterations in the intestinal microbiome, especially related to reuterin, the metabolite from the lactobacillus reuteri.


The investigators found that the fecal metabolites from healthy subjects and wild-type mice suppress colorectal cancer, while metabolites from patients or mice with colorectal cancer do not.


Reuterin was found to be the most potent metabolite in suppressing colorectal cancer. And further study found that Reuterin was effective in inhibiting proliferation and inducing cell death of colorectal cancer, but also in cell lines of lymphoma, ovarian cancer, melanoma, and pancreatic cancer. Normal cells were not found to be at all affected. While early, this all suggests a novel strategy for treatment for translational investigation.


The final abstract to be highlighted was actually funded by the NCCN Oncology Research Program and is entitled “Phase 2 Trial Trifluridine/Tipiracil in Combination with Irinotecan in Advanced Biliary Cancers” and was presented by Sri Tella and colleagues from the Mayo Clinic Comprehensive Cancer Center.


Historically, biliary cancers have had very few and limited treatment options. This current study was an open-label phase two clinical trial in patients with biliary cancer and at least one prior systemic therapy to assess the activity of combination trifluridine/tipiracil plus Irinotecan. The subjects were treated with a regimen of trifluridine/tipiracil 25 milligrams per meter squared, orally, on days 1 through 5 on 14-day cycles, and Irinotecan, 180 milligrams per meter squared intravenously on day one of the 14-day cycles.

The primary endpoint for success was 16-week progression-free survival. They enrolled 28 patients 27 of whom were available. And they found a 16-week progression-free survival of 37%, which exceeded their target rate of response of 30% or greater.


Overall survival was just over 1 year. While tolerated reasonably well, those reductions were common, and the investigators concluded that further evaluation in a randomized trial was needed.


Dr. John Sweetenham: Thanks, Bob. All very interesting abstracts. I think that makes important contributions. And in the spirit of interesting discussions at the NCCN, I must say that I personally felt that there were some very interesting and excellent sessions around health equity at the conference, including the plenary sessions.


I wonder if you could give us some key takeaways from those sessions looking at health equity, and also the one that specifically looked at access to cancer care, and equity in the context of access.


Dr. Robert Carlson: So, there were a number of sessions at the NCCN Annual Conference that related directly or indirectly to issues of access and equity of cancer care. I'd like to focus specifically on a plenary session that was devoted to equity in cancer care.


We all know that equities in cancer care are pervasive, and we can't just wish or decree away these disparities. We need to be willing to evaluate how each of us can change our own practice and how we can be an active part of larger systems change. And that is what this plenary session was all about—actively eliminating existing disparities in cancer care.


The session was moderated by Dr. Carmen E. Guerra of the University of Pennsylvania. It started with Thomas Farrington of the Prostate Health Education Network discussing the importance of cancer early detection and screening strategies that are designed to account for the differences in incidence and age distribution of cancers in different racial and ethnic groups.


Mr. Farrington used prostate cancer as an example of where Blacks have an especially high incidence, younger age distribution, and more aggressive prostate cancer than do other racial groups.


Liz Margolies of the National LGBT Cancer Network followed and stated that cancer doesn't discriminate, but the health care system certainly does. She talked about making welcoming spaces for sexual and gender minorities in cancer care settings, of truly learning and understanding the perspectives and needs of the LGBT communities, and gaining their trust. She concluded by saying that being well-intentioned is not enough—hard work is necessary.


Shonta Chambers of the Patient Advocate foundation described the importance of social determinants of health that included socioeconomic factors, physical environment, health behaviors, and health care access and quality. She emphasized the central importance of patient navigation in assuring appropriate access. She described using data and the social vulnerability index to target resources where they are needed the most.


Dr. Maria Garcia-Jimenez from UCLA outlined efforts to improve appropriate racial and ethnic representation across clinical trials, specifically by breaking down barriers to patient participation. Dr. Garcia-Jimenez described how these barriers exist at the health system level, with the provider, at the community level, which typically is through lack of trust, and at the patient level, through lack of trust, language, cultural differences, and lack of awareness.


Alyssa Schatz from the NCCN discussed the Elevating Cancer Equity initiative, which is a collaboration of NCCN, the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, and the National Minority Quality Forum, involving a number of additional representatives with expertise in disparities in cancer care. This initiative has developed a health equity report card, which includes 17 measures across 4 different domains, and that has been piloted currently at 5 NCCN member institutions to identify areas of racial access and equity needing improvement. The initiative also developed a series of policy priorities, primarily at the federal level that aimed at minimizing disparities.


The summary of this session is that talking about disparities is inadequate. It is crucial that we take positive and focused action to address existing disparities so that we can improve and facilitate equitable care for all patients. And that equity is everyone's responsibility.


Dr. John Sweetenham: That's great. Thanks, Bob. Yeah, there were 2 statements from that session, which really sort of struck home with me. I think, to your final point there, I know that one of the comments that were made was, 'It is great that there has been so much research in recent years, and so much emphasis in the literature on cancer care disparities. But doing research that demonstrates disparities doesn't actually help the patient. It's what we do about that, which is important. And it's sort of a statement of the obvious, but it's very impactful to me to think about that it's become an area of really quite extensive research, but we actually need some actionable conclusions from those research and to work really hard on that.


The other thing that was said that really struck home with me was the comment that “Cancer is a disease of the family.”' And certainly, the person who said that wasn't talking in the inherited sense, but really more of the impacts that cancer has on the family and the caregivers as a whole.


I thought they were both really impactful statements from what was a really excellent session. Bob, I really appreciate you sharing your insights with us today. Are there any other important messages you'd like to get across before we wrap up?


Dr. Robert Carlson: Well, the Annual Conference of the NCCN serves as a forum to discuss important and rapidly evolving NCCN clinical practice guidelines, to discuss best practices in administering cancer care, and to share the results of a wide range of research activities that relate to improving cancer care.

We at NCCN invite the oncology community to next year's NCCN Annual Conference and review the endured materials that will be available sometime this June, from the conference that will be posted on the NCCN website.


Dr. John Sweetenham: Great, thank you! Thanks once again for spending time with us on the podcast today, and for the many contributions that NCCN has made, both nationally and globally, and indeed continues to make to advance quality, effective, equitable, and accessible care for all patients with cancer.


Dr. Robert Carlson: And thank you, John, we look forward to working with you as the chair of the NCCN Board of Directors to further extend all these efforts.


Dr. John Sweetenham: Thanks! Thanks also to our listeners for your time today. If you are enjoying the content on the ASCO Daily News podcast, please take a moment to rate, review, and subscribe wherever you get your podcasts.



Dr. John Sweetenham:

Consulting or Advisory Role: EMA Wellness


Dr. Robert Carlson:

Employment (immediate family member): Flatiron Health

Patents, Royalties, Other Intellectual Property: Patents relating to inventions as an employee of NCCN

Other Relationship: National Comprehensive Cancer Network



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. Guest statements on the podcast do not express the opinions of ASCO. The mention of any product or service organization activity or therapy should not be construed as an ASCO endorsement.