Why ASCO Matters

Why ASCO Matters

05.31.13 | By

Over the course of the past 24 hours, thousands of physicians, researchers, advocates and executives have poured into Chicago for the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology. The volume at the meeting is extraordinary: more than 20,000 attendees will swarm McCormick Place, thousands of others will fill nearby hotels.

The meeting is a bellwether for the oncology space as a whole, a place where the “next big thing” is introduced, and where the countless refinements in the way we prevent, diagnose and treat cancer are discussed.

It’s a sprawling meeting, not just in terms of physical space (McCormick Place is the largest convention center in North America), but also in terms of topics covered. More than 4,000 pieces of research will be presented over the course of the next four days. Some of that research will receive a great deal of attention – I’ll talk about some of that later this weekend – but to focus on just the highlighted research misses the point of why the meeting is so important to the cause of innovation.

“Cancer” is no longer a singular disease, and even the way that we have traditionally subdivided cancers, by the location in which a tumor is first found, is becoming less and less useful as we learn more about the underlying biology and genetics of cancer. What we’ve learned has made it clear that cancer is at once a more complex and insidious illness than we could have imagined even a decade or two ago. But the explosion of science has also given researchers more to explore.

ASCO reflects that reality. Sessions here are increasingly specialized. For many, it’s not enough to focus on a single tumor type; instead, teams are looking at single mutations, or looking across an array of genes for a signature that suggests a certain cancer – or a certain treatment.

Such fragmentation has changed not just ASCO, but the nature of conversations about cancer in general. The Social Oncology Project, a new report by my firm, W2O Group, found there were more than 16 million online conversations about cancer last year, spanning a dizzying array of topics. And while that number is certainly impressive, what may be more important is the growing number of physicians taking part in that dialogue. Our database of verified physicians who tweet found that mentions of cancer doubled over the past year, a trend that shows little sign of abating.

Indeed, the ASCO meeting hasn’t yet begun in earnest, and the online conversation is already exploding: more than 2,000 tweets a have referenced the conference’s “hashtag,” #ASCO13, this week, far outpacing the online conversation of a year ago.

Many of those conversations are between specialists, discussing the finer points of the innovation they’ve seen emerge at the meeting. Some of them will no doubt spur new questions, new hypotheses and new approaches. By next year, when ASCO again arrives in Chicago, some of those ideas will find their way to presentations and posters. In time, those ideas will bloom into new treatments and new approaches. And we’ll once again flock to Chicago for the next big thing.

 

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