Brad Lon­car­'s AS­CO19 pre­view: 5 big ideas to watch for at the ul­ti­mate can­cer show of the year

Biotech Voices is a collection of exclusive opinion editorials from some of the leading voices in biopharma on the biggest industry questions today. Think you have a voice that should be heard? Reach out to Amber Tong.

Fri­day marks the be­gin­ning of yet an­oth­er AS­CO An­nu­al Meet­ing. For those of us who fol­low can­cer re­search close­ly, this will al­ways be one of the most spe­cial times of the year. It is a mo­ment to take stock of the in­dus­try’s progress but al­so con­sid­er the chal­lenges ahead. Ge­nomics, ad­vances in an­ti­body en­gi­neer­ing, im­munother­a­py, cell ther­a­py, and oth­er tools are chang­ing how re­searchers and clin­i­cians think about can­cer. The in­dus­try’s mo­men­tum is un­mis­tak­able. At the same time, there will nev­er be a short­age of un­met needs and too many pa­tients are with­out good treat­ment op­tions to­day.

One thing I have no­ticed a lot when talk­ing with peo­ple ahead of this year’s meet­ing is that many are call­ing 2019 a down year. It feels like there are not as many weighty pre­sen­ta­tions as in the past and that the “wow fac­tor” is just plain miss­ing. While there might be some truth to that (AS­CO stal­warts Mer­ck and Bris­tol are not even hold­ing an­a­lyst events this year), con­sid­er that this might al­so be a sign that the way com­pa­nies are pre­sent­ing da­ta through­out the year is evolv­ing. Per­haps AS­CO’s role is as well.

Put sim­ply, there are more med­ical meet­ings through­out the year than ever be­fore. They are well at­tend­ed by the re­search com­mu­ni­ty and cov­ered so wide­ly by the me­dia that there is less of a rea­son to hold da­ta for this one big event. We are al­so liv­ing in a re­al-time era. A good il­lus­tra­tion of the chang­ing times is last year’s 1L lung can­cer pre­sen­ta­tions at AACR. Those were prob­a­bly the most im­por­tant da­ta re­leas­es in on­col­o­gy in years, yet they were pre­sent­ed at a con­fer­ence that is known for fo­cus­ing on pre­clin­i­cal and ear­ly stage re­search. What mat­tered most to the com­pa­nies was not the venue but get­ting the da­ta out in a time­ly man­ner.

That is not to say that AS­CO’s role is di­min­ished. It will al­ways be the biggest, most es­teemed, and frankly best con­fer­ence of the year. It will al­so al­ways be the pre­mier venue for clin­i­cians to gath­er and dis­cuss new trends and best prac­tices with oth­ers in the in­dus­try. But I do think how da­ta is pre­sent­ed there and the way some of us use AS­CO is tru­ly chang­ing, and that’s ok. To me, it is the ul­ti­mate big ideas con­fer­ence. I try to take a macro view and use it as a barom­e­ter of how on­col­o­gy is pro­gress­ing over the long term and how new treat­ments might fit in. If you view it that way, I think 2019 is most def­i­nite­ly not a down year.

Be­low is what I think are five “big ideas” at this year’s con­fer­ence to look for. I’ll al­so in­clude some notes af­ter­wards on small­er items that have in­trigued me as well. Note: these are things I’m per­son­al­ly in­ter­est­ed in and it is def­i­nite­ly not an ex­haus­tive list for the en­tire con­fer­ence.

Endpoints News

Sign up to read this article for free.

Get free access to a limited number of articles, plus choose newsletters to get straight to your inbox.