Jun 05 2022


by at 10:14 pm under Uncategorized

Greetings from Chicago! I am at the annual ASCO meeting; the first full-on in-person ASCO meeting since 2019. The energy is high, and some of the progress is simply jaw-dropping. You would not be able to tell by looking at me, because I am wearing my mask; but I am in a distinct minority. Let’s hope COVID decided to take the weekend off…

I spent Sunday afternoon at the Plenary Session, which had at least 10,000 attendees. Frequently, the plenaries are, shall we say, somewhat pedestrian. But not this time. The first presentation pointed the way to the use of molecular markers to guide the therapy of colon cancer — with practice changing implications. The key drug used in the study was panitumumab, an anti-EGF receptor antibody. I led the initial Phase I clinical trial of that antibody, starting in 2001. I felt like a proud papa, grateful to have had a chance to start a chain of events that led to this day.

The next abstract used a clever basket trial design to explore combination therapies for Ewing Sarcoma. As if on cue, the presenter responded to a question by touting the potential and exciting early results with TK216. Early laboratory research by Jeff Toretsky, Aykut Üren and colleagues led to the development of TK216. Jeff got a personal shout out from the presenter. Congratulations, Jeff!

Then, there was a presentation about an antibody drug conjugate (ADC; trade name is Enhertu) containing trastuzumab (i.e., Herceptin) and a topoisomerase inhibitor. The Destiny-04 breast cancer clinical trial demonstrated that this drug can be highly effective in women with breast cancers having low levels of expression of Her2. This is an absolute game changer for many women with breast cancer and offers new hope for women with types of triple-negative breast cancer for whom effective therapies have been lacking. At the end of the presentation, there was a prolonged standing ovation — only the second one I have ever seen at an ASCO plenary. The first was for Bernie Fisher when he gave a Plenary discussion shortly after being removed (unfairly, in the view of many) as chair of the NSABP clinical trials group by the NCI. This time, people stood not in appreciation for the life’s work of a giant, but rather because of the progress this trial represents.

For me, it was so satisfying to see antibody therapy continue to come of age. I was involved in early ADC clinical trials nearly 30 years ago and had the privilege of speaking at the 2012 ASCO Plenary Session about the first truly effective Her2-targeted ADC. This drug, and this general concept, are going to infiltrate throughout oncology, and it will be a good thing for our patients. Thrilling.

In another Georgetown Lombardi-connected moment, Claudine Isaacs was a discussant on a breast cancer study in another session. Former ASCO President George Sledge tweeted out a lovely appreciation of her outstanding commentary. Well done, Claudine!

I came away from Sunday filled with optimism for the power of cancer research to translate into more effective treatments for people with dreaded diseases. In this crazy time, with news cycles dominated by senseless hatred and violence that have somehow pushed a remorseless pandemic into the background, it is deeply reassuring and life-affirming to know that the arc of progress has held true in the face of these challenges. It’s up to us to maintain this momentum.

And ASCO is only half-over!

Stay safe, be well and be the change.




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