Specialty meetings within the meeting are just one change likely in store for next year's American Society of Clinical Oncology Annual Meeting, to be held June 2–6 in Atlanta. That is the word from the Chair of the Scientific Program Committee for this year's meeting, Branimir I. Sikic, MD.
For both pediatric oncologists and gynecologic oncologists, “we're thinking of consolidating sessions into two or two and a half days instead of having them spread out over the five-day meeting,” said Dr. Sikic, Professor of Medicine (Oncology) and Director of the General Clinical Research Center in the Division of Oncology at Stanford University School of Medicine.
The change, which is designed to attract more presenters in those fields as well as decrease the time that specialty oncologists need to spend away from their practices, “is very likely to happen,” he said. If it's a success, other specialty meetings could be added in future years, he added.
“The planning of the annual meeting is not an overnight process,” said Dr. Sikic, noting that committee members and other ASCO leaders met in June to begin conducting a review of the '05 Orlando meeting and begin discussing plans to make next year's sessions even more user-friendly to the organization's diverse membership.
Membership Split on Additional Plenaries
A review of post-meeting surveys sent out to all attendees showed that “the membership was split down the middle” about the replacement of the traditional unopposed Plenary Session with three plenaries over three days, he said.
While the change meant that attendees were sometimes torn between a plenary and other important concurrent sessions, “it's also clear that members want to hear about more than three or four exciting trials,” Dr. Sikic said. (Although in recent years the number has more typically been five to seven). A total of nine pivotal trials plus review and commentary were presented at the three plenary sessions this year in Orlando.
Another advantage to the new design is that special awards and lectures, such as the David A. Karnofsky Memorial Award Lecture, were associated with each plenary, said Immediate Past Scientific Program Committee Chair Bruce J. Roth, MD, Professor of Medicine at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine.
“This increased the visibility of awards,” he said, noting that in the past they were typically lumped together at the Presidential Address, with suboptimal attendance.”
Dr. Sikic said that a solution under consideration for next year's meeting is having two plenaries. “I'm fairly sure we won't go back to one [plenary]. At issue is whether three is too many.”
Virtual Meeting Strongly Subscribed
Despite sparse attendance at the Presidential Address, that too will continue to share its time slot with other presentations, he said.
“It's one of the most popular items on the Virtual Meeting (at www.asco.org), so we're less concerned about the conflict,” Dr. Sikic said. In fact, there wasn't even a survey question asking members if they liked the change, instituted this year.
The “strongly subscribed Virtual Meeting, one of the most significant innovations over the past few years,” will continue to be expanded, he added. “We're finding that even members who came to the meeting are subscribing in order to reinforce information or hear science they missed.”
The “Highlights of the Day,” at which clinicians and scientists discuss the most significant research presented during the previous day's program, is also “definitely a keeper,” he said.
Dr. Roth said that the annual meeting will also continue to highlight “very select, critical, timely data” recently published or presented at meetings of other organizations.
For starters, some oncologists may come only to the ASCO meeting and might otherwise miss the results, he said.
Additionally, “including such data in an educational or plenary session enables us to add perspective and review. When you have very impressive data, we don't want our members hearing about it [first] on Good Morning America or reading about it in USA Today,” he said.
Education Options Enhanced
Noting that many attendees come to the Annual Meeting specifically for education, Dr. Sikic said that the Scientific Program Committee and the Cancer Education Committee are working closely together to continue to enhance educational options.
Among the proposed plans are the addition of more presentations by oncology fellows-in-training and an increased emphasis on highly translational, bench-to-bedside research.
“A major shift over the last few years, that will certainly be continued next year, is an emphasis on advances in molecular oncology,” said Cancer Education Committee Chair Mary L. (Nora) Disis, MD, Associate Professor of Medicine at the University of Washington. “The ASCO meeting becomes a mini-university to keep up with what's going on in the lab and how it translates into clinical practice.”
Scheduling is also important, Dr. Roth said. In Orlando, “we front-loaded with educational seminars on the weekend so that people who couldn't take a lot of days away from their practice could still come and get what they needed,” he said.
The educational program was also improved by having a more flexible schedule than in years past, said George W. Sledge, Jr., MD, Immediate Past Chair of the Cancer Education Committee and Program Director of the Breast Cancer Program of Indiana University Cancer Center. “This year we left a lot of open slots, so we could add sessions almost up to the last minute.
“The most stunning result was the Special Scientific Symposium, ‘Advances in Monoclonal Antibody Therapy for Breast Cancer,’ which we added just weeks before the meeting started,” he said.
Despite the late notice, “we were still able to sit 8,000 at the session,” Dr. Roth added.
The Cancer Education Committee also plans to continue its popular “Meet the Professor” sessions, “oncology primers that allow physicians to get caught up with all the emerging data,” Dr. Sledge said.
Friday Sessions Popular
What about this year's other major change, starting the meeting a day early, on Friday? That too is probably here to stay, Dr. Sikic said.
About 50% to 60% of survey respondents said they attended—an even higher percentage than said they attended on Tuesday, the final day of the meeting, he said. “That's a very significant number for the first year, a reflection of the growth in the field. The extra day is warranted and appreciated.”
Also look for a continued emphasis on cancer survivors, he said, noting that the theme of next year's meeting is Advocating for Survivorship, Clinical Research, and Oncology Quality Care.
While the theme does not dictate what will be presented—“the science is picked based on the quality and importance of study results—it does prompt us to highlight certain sessions,” Dr. Sikic said.
An Outstanding Meeting
The post-meeting poll showed that “overall, this year's meeting was outstanding—one of the best, if not the best, ever,” he said. While some of the credit can go to innovations like the Virtual Meeting, this was at least “in part due to the science itself.
“Whenever you have a number of positive, practice-changing trials like Herceptin, everyone thinks it's a success,” Dr. Sikic said. “Science is central, and my committee's thrust is to continue to put forth the best possible science.”
Online Compendium Offers New Educational Tool
In addition to the Annual Meeting, a major thrust of the Cancer Education Committee's efforts is the Oncology Compendium Project, an Internet-based tool that will give oncologists online access to all ASCO content, including virtual meetings, practice guidelines, and Journal of Clinical Oncology review articles.
The Compendium, which is scheduled to be online by early 2006 and updated twice a year, “will attempt to provide a comprehensive curriculum of all the information oncologists need to know for certification and recertification,” said Compendium Editor Jamie H. Von Roenn, MD, Professor of Medicine at the Feinberg School of Medicine and Medical Director of the Palliative Care and Home Hospice Care Programs at Northwestern Memorial Hospital.
The site will include sections on molecular oncology and genetic screening as well as a comprehensive outline of the optimal management and treatment of nearly 40 types of cancer by site, Dr. Von Roenn said.
”Whenever you go to a section, you'll get “Editor's Picks” of the best articles on the topic as well as references to all other content,” she said.
“As the section editor goes through archived materials, we can also sunset outdated data,” Dr. Von Roenn added. “It's much better than a textbook can ever be.”
More Statistical Rigor
Immediate Past Scientific Program Committee Chair Bruce J. Roth, MD, said that one of the changes of which he is most proud is the application of greater statistical rigor to the abstracts.
“Biostatisticians outlined what was expected from a Phase III trial, creating a scoring system. Then based on its score, each abstract had a better or worse chance of making it to the final program,” he said. “This ensured we had the best possible science.”
And the Chair of the Scientific Program Committee for this year's meeting, Branimir I. Sikic, MD, said that the committee expects to refine further the role of biostatisticians next year: “Instead of simply having them grade abstracts, we're making them an integral part of the disease tracts within the Scientific Program Committee, giving them more of a voice at the table.”