SAN ANTONIO—For three decades breast cancer specialists have made their pre-Christmas pilgrimage to this south Texas city to share their scientific and clinical expertise at what has largely been considered one of the best breast cancer meetings in the world.
One of the unofficial topics of great interest at the 2006 Charles A. Coltman Jr. San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium was scuttlebutt about the timing of the American Society of Clinical Oncology's then-upcoming inaugural breast cancer site-specific scientific meeting scheduled for September 2007, three months before SABCS's 30th annual meeting.
That topic resulted in the OT article “ASCO Starting Breast Cancer Meeting—Will the Addition of Certain Site-Specific Scientific Meetings Contribute to or Cannibalize the Current Crop?” in the 2/25/07 issue—a title that in retrospect probably could have included the phrase “or Cause Collaborations Among,” since that alliterative addition seems to have been one consequence of the shake-out among some of the breast cancer meetings.
The official announcement of a breast cancer meeting merger between SABCS and the American Association for Cancer Research was made in a somewhat understated way during SABCS's opening plenary session at the meeting last month by C. Kent Osborne, MD, Co-chair of the symposium with one of its founders, meeting namesake Charles A. Coltman Jr., MD.
Dr. Osborne pointed to the significance of declining death rates from breast cancer over the last three decades and the advent of genomic medicine and targeted therapy leading to personalized medicine as a reason for beginning collaborative discussions with AACR a year and a half earlier.
“Call it a merger, collaboration, alliance between these two organizations,” he said. “It's 30 years for San Antonio and 100 years for AACR….and I think this alliance guarantees success of the San Antonio meeting in the future by offering the most relevant research and discoveries for clinicians and translational scientists which will help provide greater basic-clinical interaction.
“There will still be the triad of the AACR, CTRC [Cancer Therapy and Research Center], and Baylor College of Medicine, and all three will provide the membership of the scientific planning committee and abstract review committee.
“So beginning next year there will be a new meeting, the CTRC-AACR San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium.”
What Will New Structure Be?
After interviewing several of the principals in the merger, though, OT found a number of discrepancies in their understanding of the new leadership structure.
For example, Dr. Osborne, Director of the Dan L. Duncan Cancer Center and the Lester and Sue Smith Breast Center, Professor of Medicine and Molecular and Cellular Biology, and the Dudley and Tina Sharp Chair for Cancer Research at Baylor College of Medicine, said he would continue as Co-chair of the meeting with Dr. Coltman.
The Executive Committee, he said, would consist of (1) For AACR, Vanderbilt-Ingram's Carlos L. Arteaga, MD, who chairs AACR's biennial breast cancer conference; (2) For Baylor, Powel H. Brown, MD, PhD; and (3) for CTRC, Tyler J. Curiel, MD, MPH.
According to AACR's CEO, Margaret Foti, PhD, though, Dr. Osborne will be the Symposium's Chair, with Drs. Arteaga, Brown, and Curiel serving as Co-chairs.
OT was also told by several sources that Dr. Coltman would serve in an advisory emeritus role, and when he was asked about the meeting's title change that would no longer be prefixed by his name, Dr. Coltman said that he had been totally surprised, and somewhat embarrassed, when he originally learned about the naming tribute during the 2004 meeting, and that he didn't care about the change in the name now.
Hints of a Fairly Well-Guarded Secret
The collaborative effort had been a fairly well-guarded secret. When OT interviewed CTRC Chairman of the Board Mark E. Watson Jr. following word of the merger between CTRC and the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio (UTHSCSA) (see accompanying story) in November, Mr. Watson said that the breast cancer symposium “will continue on as it is.”
“The university has always been very supportive, and it's a significant event for the city of San Antonio,” he continued. “We plan to continue that partnership with the university, and we view this as an opportunity to improve the experience for all the attendees.”
During a subsequent phone interview with UTHSCSA Medical School Dean and Vice President for Medical Affairs William L. Henrich, MD, in early December, he hinted that “there are developments regarding the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium that I'm not at liberty to tell you about [now], but you'll be hearing about at the conference….We're going to endeavor to make some exciting innovations in that program that will not only enhance but grow its appeal, and in so doing we're going to make sure we take good care of the attendees.”
News of Meeting Leaked in Philadelphia
But days later, while attending the American Association for Cancer Research's Frontiers in Cancer Prevention Research Conference in Philadelphia, this reporter learned from an SABCS source about the still secret and unsettled plans to merge the breast cancer meetings the following week in San Antonio.
At the Symposium, Dr. Osborne told OT that the collaboration will give “AACR a new seat on the planning and abstract review committees….I expect there to be small differences in content, and not so much in format, with more basic and translational research presented,” he said.
More Young Investigators
Dr. Foti said that she would like to see more young investigators involved in the meeting. AACR has long been involved in encouraging scientists in training through its Associates Program (OT, 6/10/07 issue).
She cited scholar travel training awards and a young investigator lectureship as two additions.
“We've had very close interactions with survivors and patient advocates and also a very close relationship in particular with Komen,” Dr. Foti continued. “It all seems so perfect, and we are excited about launching this relationship with the SABCS.”
Word from Komen
Susan G. Komen for the Cure President and CEO Hala Moddelmog told OT that Komen is excited about the new merger: “One of our big things, even though it's almost an overused buzzword, is collaboration. We like to see groups coming together, and there's more power in it,” she said.
We certainly plan to continue with our Brinker laureates and award lectures and our Brinker Dinner, but we are interested in young investigators, and so if that becomes a focus of the conference, then I think Komen would potentially be interested in looking into supporting that.”
She said this would be a good match with Komen's research strategy to increase the number of people getting into breast cancer.
“One of the things we like to accomplish is reaching out to young investigators to really turn them into champions for breast cancer, especially since they have many diseases to choose from in their careers, and we get worried about the drop in the NCI budget and losing some of them in the shuffle.”
She pointed out that when Nancy Brinker founded Komen 25 years ago there were young investigators who received Komen grants then who have now matured into highly accomplished breast cancer researchers with continued loyalty to the foundation, and an interest in serving as mentors to others.
AACR Biennial Breast Cancer Meeting
Dr. Foti said that AACR's Annual Meeting is so huge it's impossible to have a major concentration in any one organ site or scientific area, but that the biennial basic and translational science breast cancer meeting will be held again in the fall of 2009 with Dr. Arteaga agreeing to serve as chair one last time.
“That meeting has a unique niche,” Dr. Foti said. “It's very small and had more than 225 proffered papers focusing on basic and translational science for those with a strong interest in the biological underpinnings of breast cancer.
“Chuck Coltman was a significant individual in recommending this SABCS collaboration,” she said. “He's extremely happy about it, and knows that the science of breast cancer must be at this meeting from his membership in AACR and attendance at its meetings over the years.
“This is a real collaboration with equal opportunity among all three groups on the committees. Our portion of the committee will consist of a combination of basic and translational researchers, and AACR will bring a new element that adds value and a new dimension that will make it a unique and comprehensive meeting, and should help sustain it as the most important breast cancer meeting in the world.”
Dr. Foti also noted that although AACR has had sporadic collaborations with other organizations and institutions over the years, this will be the first ongoing collaborative effort.
“I personally think this collaboration could change the face of breast cancer because it will bring new ideas to the table for clinicians to consider and vice versa, and there's no forum out there that's doing that right now.”
When asked about the new SABCS-AACR partnership, ASCO President Nancy E. Davidson, MD, and Eric Winer, MD, who co-chaired the Society's Breast Cancer Symposium in September, both seemed surprised by the news, but expressed positive comments about the meeting's organization in future years.
Gabriel N. Hortobagyi, MD, ASCO's Immediate Past President who was largely responsible for championing the need for an ASCO breast cancer meeting, told OT that AACR is a very mature and strong organization and will play a major part in organizing the next SABCS, and “in so doing will inject some of its character into the meeting.
“ASCO had proposed an association between the SABCS meeting and ASCO some years ago, and at that time the organizers weren't ready for such an association. I'm not exactly sure what prompted [the AACR collaboration] this time, but it can only make the meeting better,” he said.
But aside from the usual comments about collaborative efforts that would further the science, no one would say explicitly why this match was better now than those proposed in the past.
Bigger Role for AACR?
When asked if AACR would be eventually assuming a larger role in the meeting, Dr. Foti restated that this was a collaborative partnership among three entities.
However, it is expected that AACR will bring its established meeting planning expertise down to San Antonio, as well as a level of professionalism that has been lacking in certain parts of the symposium.
As for who will be attending which breast cancer meetings in the future, Dr. Foti repeated the same statement she made earlier in the year, that “ultimately attendees will vote with their feet.”