Even in the face of a pandemic, global efforts to fight cancer do not stop and leading oncology experts from all corners of the world are being reunited as one oncology community to share the latest advances in the field at the ESMO Virtual Congress 2020.
“ESMO’s mission to help doctors become better doctors every day is what motivated the entire ESMO Leadership and Congress Scientific Committee to make the congress happen, no matter what,” states ESMO and Congress 2020 President, Solange Peters, commenting on the fact that the annual appointment with international cancer research is being held virtually for the first time. ESMO took the difficult decision earlier this year to change the congress format as part of its efforts to help reduce the spread of COVID-19, to protect colleagues and staff, and to enable healthcare professionals to continue to support their patients in these challenging times. “The ESMO Virtual Congress 2020 is certainly something new and different,” adds Peters, “but its essence is there: sharing the latest research results to bring innovations to cancer patients.”
Indeed, this year’s tagline of ‘Bringing innovation to cancer patients’ is particularly timely in the current era where there is an urgent need to put the latest real-world evidence into clinical practice. ESMO’s annual congress, in collaboration with the European Oncology Nursing Society (EONS), doubles its offer to oncology professionals worldwide by splitting the congress programme into a Science weekend (19–21 September) and an Education weekend (16–18 October). “The aim is to offer attendees a more targeted experience where they can watch the sessions that matter most to them,” explains ESMO Virtual Congress 2020 Scientific Chair, John Haanen, adding that “the Education weekend is designed to incorporate all the new data presented during the Science weekend so everybody will be up-to-date to go back to their clinic."
The Science weekend will begin with a not-to-be-missed Opening Ceremony with Keynote Lectures on two of today’s hottest topics. At the cutting-edge of cancer science, Prof. Antoni Ribas, Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center at University of California, Los Angeles, U.S., will describe how T-cells induce cancer regression. “Under certain conditions, there is a sufficient initial host immune response to attract enough T-cells. PD-1 expression aborts that immune response, but we can release this by blocking PD-1 or PD-L1. By understanding this mechanism, it allows us to consider how we can treat patients who do not respond to PD-1 blockade.”
Keynote Lecture from Dr Anthony Fauci, Director of National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, National Institutes of Health, U.S., will discuss the public health and scientific challenges brought by the COVID-19 pandemic. “An important aspect of this disease is the fact that about 40-45% of individuals who are infected are without symptoms. This becomes even more compelling because we know that up to 50% of transmission from one person to another occurs from an asymptomatic person,” says Fauci, highlighting that secondary infections are most common among household contacts and people in the healthcare settings.
Indeed, the impact of COVID-19 on cancer care will feature strongly in the programme: new data will be discussed on the prognosis of infected cancer patients and on the consequences of the pandemic on the delivery of quality care. “A lot of resources have been put into research related to the pandemic, so we thought it was critical to incorporate the latest data coming from large registries,” says Haanen. “ESMO has also launched new surveys in this area. For instance, the ESMO Resilience Task Force has carefully looked at the effect of the pandemic on medical oncologists and full data from these surveys will be presented during the Science weekend.”
With the objective of influencing cancer policy at the national, European and global levels, the Public Policy Track on Sunday and Monday will offer updates and debates on other issues that directly impact the burden of cancer and the value of cancer treatments. In addition, a highlight of the programme on Sunday is a Special Session on challenges in the development and real-world use of the ESMO-Magnitude of Clinical Benefit Scale (ESMO-MCBS). This session will provide insights on the future developments of the tool and will address several related topics, such as quality of life, study design issues, and cancer medicines prioritisation in the real world, using the Israeli experience as an example.
Gender issues should not lag behind in these difficult times, and ESMO Women for Oncology will present a series of events including mentorship sessions and a Facebook Roundtable discussing whether the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated gender inequalities. On Sunday, the ‘Women in Science’ forum will discuss the status quo of representation in the field, particularly pertaining to cancer research publications.
The ESMO Virtual Congress 2020 programme will provide the first announcements of practice-changing data and ground-breaking translational cancer research that we have come to expect from the Society’s annual Congress. Technology will provide a uniting platform that allows attendees from across the world—many of whom may be participating in an ESMO Congress for the first time—to join together to keep cancer research alive. The ESMO President sums this up by saying, “Virtual events have demonstrated the potential for a more democratic conference world, expanding the dissemination of information to a much wider community of stakeholders. New technology is playing a crucial role: we are all constantly connected.” She concludes, “It can be sad not to be all in the same place, face to face, but I firmly believe that we, researchers, clinicians, patient advocates, from every place in the world can work together, irrespective of geographical distances, because we want the best for our patients.”
- Opening Ceremony, 19 September 2020, h.11:15-12:15, Channel 1
- Educational session "Cancer policy: what it is and why you cannot work without it’" 20 September 2020, h.11:15-12:15, Channel 1
- Special session "Challenges in the development and real-world use of the ESMO-MCBS", 20 September 2020, h.11:15-12:15, Channel 2
- Special session "Women for Oncology Forum: Women in Science", 20 September 2020, h.11:15-12:15, Channel 3