ASCO 2016 Day 4 and Review of Events

06/06/16

Day 4 of ASCO was an early start as we wanted to be there on time for what was to be the big Melanoma day! The morning started with what’s next in Cancer Immunotherapy at 8am this focused a lot on bio-markers for better diagnosis of tumour type, this is something that is emerging as a way of better understanding which treatment is most likely to be successful in which tumour type. This led onto a discussion by about combining different immunotherapy treatments and how well tolerated they might be by patients. Adverse reactions to medication remains a problem in treatment and can often cause a patient to cease treatment if it becomes too severe, with new data though from Ippi/Nivo Checkmate 067 trial it seems ceasing treatment early due to adverse reactions did not lessen its outcome on the patient which then leads to the question are patients being over treated on some trials? This is something that needs to be investigated further in the future.

The next big session was Metastatic Melanoma are we making the right treatment choices?Here the debate was centered on which treatment should be given first Targeted Therapy or Immunotherapy . This can be determined by a number of factors and more trials have been mooted for to fine tune the correct treatment pathway sequences. All of this takes time of course and always along the way there will be losses. It can take on average ten years for a drug to come from research phase through trials process to final approval however there are some examples where drugs have been fast tracked when they showed good results without many high grade adverse effects.

I took a breather for a couple of hours before the next session and retreated to the patient advocacy lounge, all the information coming at once is quite overwhelming and can make you veer from feeling really elated to really low, but I always felt I wasn’t just there to get information for myself so it was important to keep listening and learning as much as I could.

In the afternoon in one of the mega theatre’s was the big Melanoma abstract presentation and new stats revelations on 3 yr data of ongoing trials there was good news and some not so good but overall things are moving in the right direction compared to only 5 years ago there has been huge advances in the treatment of melanoma. The top oncologists in the field of melanoma were involved in combing this information and in it’s delivery to the audience who listened very intently it was hard to even find a seat such is the interest in melanoma treatment as it is leading the way in treatment options for other cancers too.

While this session was taking place in an equally big if not bigger auditorium US Vice-President Joe Biden was addressing ASCO attendees on the Moonshot program which has promised many millions of dollars in extra funding to cancer research and development we can only hope it makes a difference quickly to the provision of new treatments. It added a real buzz around McCormick place to have him attend and security was tight for his appearance and with all the major news networks covering it too it really was a big event to have him there.

There were some smaller presentations in the later afternoon but they were really just a recap of information already given so it was time to head back to the apartment and debriefing from all of us about what we had learned that day. It was also time to sort out the huge mess my bedroom had become in the previous day’s as we rushed out to get the train to the conference each day. It literally looked like a bomb had exploded in there!

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Kay Curtin Melanoma Support Ireland, Prof John Crown founder Cancer Trials Ireland formerly Icorg

If I could sum up what ASCO meant for me to attend of course primarily it was a huge honour to be excepted on the scholarship program as only 300 were given to the attending patient advocates. Out of 34,000 attending only 3-4000 were advocates so there numbers are still relatively small this is because ASCO is a conference for Global Medical Oncologists and the information is directed at them in their language. It’s a steep learning curve to be in that world but it’s not impossible to learn I personally have no previous medical or scientific training but I’m learning all the time how to understand it’s a bit like learning a foreign language at times but it does filter in and you do begin to grasp what things mean. Of course this brings its own difficulty and it’s not for everyone which is understandable, patients have a lot to deal with. I was very proud to introduce myself as a representative of Melanoma Awareness Ireland and being Irish always seems to be well received many of the oncologists have Irish sounding names and were very welcoming. I must of course add my thanks to Melanoma Patient Network Europe MPNE without who’s help I would not have been able to attend it surprised many that a group of patient advocates from so many different countries could overcome language and cultural barriers to work together for the good of patients in all countries not just our own this is probably unique in the world of advocates and something to also be proud to play a part in as Irish advocates.

Following on from ASCO I made some important contacts within Cancer Trials Ireland and have been asked to be their keynote speaker at their upcoming Patient Advocacy meeting in Dublin on the 24th June. I have also made contact with some of the top American melanoma oncologists not on their Christmas card list yet but useful nonetheless and have had phone calls from Irish Pharma representatives so was ASCO worth the trip and the almost missed connecting flight on the way home when I had to run from one terminal to another most definitely it would be YES!!

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Koen van Elst Stiching Melanoom Holland, Kay Curtin Melanoma Support Ireland, Antoni Ribas MD PhD principle investigator for Pembro, Iain Galloway MPNE Ocular UK