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ASCO 2020 Presidential Address: Accelerating Progress, Prioritizing Diversity

August 2020 Vol 13, Special Issue - Value-Based Care
Wayne Kuznar
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When ASCO President Howard A. Burris III, MD, FACP, FASCO, chose the theme for the 2020 annual meeting—“Unite and Conquer: Accelerating Progress Together”—early last year, he never imagined that it would take on new meaning just 12 months later.

“While normally we would be together in the great halls of Chicago’s McCormick Place, this year, the convention center is a living symbol of uniting to conquer,” Dr Burris said, referring to the 2020 virtual scientific program that replaced the in-person annual meeting.

COVID-19 and Cancer

“We know that people with cancer are among the most vulnerable to the coronavirus, and ASCO is working to ensure that patients receive the highest-quality care,” he said. “We’re collecting data on how COVID-19 is affecting our patients through our new ASCO registry and CancerLinQ, which this year crossed a milestone of 2.5 million patients.”

He added, “These data will help inform our Road to Recovery, a new initiative to create a coronavirus recovery blueprint for research and practice.”

Teamwork

Dr Burris came to appreciate the power of teamwork at West Point, as well as early in his medical career, pointing to how his teachers and mentors introduced him to what would eventually become his passion—cancer drug development and phase 1 clinical trials.

“It was exciting to see what we could accomplish together. I was blessed to work not only with these great doctors but also with active therapies, such as the taxanes paclitaxel and docetaxel, as my first investigational agents, along with the topoisomerase inhibitors topotecan and irinotecan, as well as gemcita­bine,” said Dr Burris.

Immunotherapy

At that point, precision medicine and molecular profiling were but a dream, and immunotherapy consisted of interleukin-2 and interferon. As can be expected, this year, immunotherapy, molecular profiling, and the search for biomarkers held a prominent place in ASCO’s annual meeting.

“The philosophy that we are strongest together is not only the driving force behind my career and organization, it’s the reason I have been so thrilled and honored to serve as your president, because that’s exactly what ASCO is all about,” Dr Burris said. “We are united in our mission to reduce the global burden of cancer.”

Prioritizing Diversity

ASCO is breaking down more than geographic barriers in its mission to reduce the global burden of cancer, said Dr Burris. ASCO is promoting racial, ethnic, and gender diversity in its workforce, making diversity a key component of the annual meeting, and prioritizing diversity in terms of expertise and experience.

In addition to progress in research, ASCO is focused on ensuring that all patients have access to care, access to clinical trials, access to the latest therapies, “and access to all of this closer to their homes,” he said.

In September, ASCO volunteers descended on Congress and held more than 160 meetings on behalf of the bipartisan Clinical Treatment Act, a bill that requires Medicaid to cover the routine costs of participating in clinical trials, including doctors’ visits and laboratory studies, so that more patients, especially underrepresented minorities, can have access to treatment advances.

Research

“As I conclude my year as your president, I am optimistic,” said Dr Burris. “Just as COVID-19 researchers are racing to develop vaccines and treatments for a new disease, our global cancer community is using technology to speed up research and development against a disease that is all too familiar. We have always collaborated to make progress. I am more confident than ever that we, united, will continue to accelerate progress and, ultimately, will conquer cancer,” he concluded.

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