July 13, 2020 -- The American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) annual meeting in virtual format featured a broad array of sessions, discussing many aspects of cancer research from drug development to treatment and patient advocacy.
The meeting was originally scheduled to take place in San Diego from April 27 to 29. But as nearly every scientific meeting planned for the spring season had to be canceled or postponed due to concerns about COVID-19, the AACR instead took the opportunity to move its programming online, holding the first portion of the meeting on April 27-28, followed by the second portion on June 22-24. By making registration for the event free and making sessions available for later viewing on the meeting website, the first session reached over 68,000 registrants from 140 countries.
The opening ceremony featured addresses by Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi and Sen. Roy Blunt, chairman of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on labor, health, and human services. Both delivered good news for the cancer research community, pledging to continue expanding funding for the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH). In his address, Blunt acknowledged the fierce competition faced by researchers to secure available funding, hinting that this was among the problems that he would like to address.
Richard Pazdur, director of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) Oncology Center of Excellence, also provided remarks. He offered an overview of the FDA's oncology-related activities, which have continued in full force despite the COVID-19 pandemic, including eight new medical entity approvals and 23 new indications for a total of 31 approvals in oncology. He also announced the formation of the new FDA-AACR Oncology Educational Fellowship to foster greater understanding of oncology drug development and regulatory policy.
Among the diverse discussions was a timely session titled "Under-representation in Clinical Trials and the Implications for Drug Development." Several examples from clinical trial data show that biological differences in disease exist between subpopulations, but low trial enrollment among subpopulations makes it difficult to draw firm conclusions based on race and ethnicity.
Consequently, the FDA has, in most cases, used aggregated data to form its recommendations, which may not result in optimal outcomes for all subpopulations. Examining underrepresentation of African Americans in multiple myeloma clinical trials, the FDA and AACR formed working groups in February to put forth a lengthy list of recommendations, covering pre- and postapprovals, and for improving access to and participation in trials. These recommendations are not only applicable to multiple myeloma trials but also can serve as a model to address disparity in clinical trials more broadly.
An educational session on "Molecular Imaging in Cancer Research" examined factors to consider when designing a molecular imaging study, including imaging modalities, considerations when selecting which modality is appropriate, and selecting molecular imaging probes. The key to many of these decisions is contrast, which allows target signals to be clearly distinguished from background noise and metabolites. Modalities discussed were PET, MRI, near-infrared (NIR) fluorescence and fluorescence-guided surgery, and finally ultrasound contrast imaging and microbubble imaging.
The session on "Evaluating Immunocompetent Models to Build Greater Success in Cancer Immunotherapy" examined the advantages and limitations associated with several models for studying immune responses, including murine models, organoids, ex vivo human tumor tissues, and patients. To thoroughly study immune responses and dynamic immune checkpoint expression, integration of human data with preclinical models is necessary. Some tissue-based approaches require the rethinking of clinical trial design to obtain appropriate samples for laboratory study.
The AACR's next virtual meeting will focus on COVID-19 and cancer and will be held July 20-22. Registration has already opened.
Alice Kan is a senior market analyst at Strategic Directions International (SDi), the leading business intelligence firm in the highly specialized field of analytical and life science instruments.
Disclosure: The Science Advisory Board is a sister company of SDi.