The annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO), the largest global cancer conference of the year, brought together the world’s top cancer researchers from June 2-6 in Chicago where they shared the latest research data and clinical breakthroughs for all types of cancers. It was revealed that new immunotherapies and precision medicine are at the crux of the fight against many different types of cancer.
ASCO is considered to be the place to go to learn everything new about oncology and the cutting edge treatment options.
Dr. David Sable, a Columbia adjunct lecturer, specializing in Entrepreneurship in Biotechnology, recently covered what to do when attending this valuable conference which hosts 40,000 cancer researchers, clinicians, pharmaceutical and biotech reps, advocacy organizations and individuals battling many forms of this disease for Forbes.
Sable went on to explain why ASCO is so important, “You know how people sometimes say, “___’s no big deal. It’s not like they’re curing cancer or anything”? At ASCO people are curing cancer.
New approaches to blood cancer therapy was one of the key focal points of ASCO. Blood cancers include leukemia, lymphoma, multiple myeloma and other blood malignancies comprise approximately 10 percent of all new cancer cases diagnosed last year.
More than 1.2 million people are either living with or in remission from a blood cancer in the United States. One of the most deadly of all blood cancers is acute myeloid leukemia (AML), which kills more than 10,000 patients in the United States each year.
The topics of precision medicine, targeting the therapy to the patient’s genetic profile, and immunotherapy, harnessing the patient’s immune system to fight cancer, were some of the most important discussion points.
Now, Louis J. DeGennaro, Ph.D., President and CEO of The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS), the world’s largest blood cancer nonprofit organization, has a lot to say on the new information provided in regards to advances in cancer treatment options that were prominently featured at the conference.
DeGennaro answered some important questions about the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and how people should go on the offensive against deadly leukemia for the Inquisitr.
Michelle Tompkins: What is LLS?
Louis J. DeGennaro: LLS is the world’s largest voluntary health agency dedicated to blood cancer. The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s mission is to cure leukemia, lymphoma, Hodgkin’s disease and myeloma, and improve the quality of life of patients and their families.
MT: When did the last ASCO take place?
Dr. DeGennaro: June 2-June 6
MT: Where was it?
Dr. DeGennaro: Chicago (McCormick Center)
MT: How many people attended?
Dr. DeGennaro: 40,000 cancer researchers, clinicians, pharmaceutical and biotech reps, advocacy organizations
MT: What are blood cancers and how are they treated?
Dr. DeGennaro: Blood cancers are cancers that form in the bone marrow and blood cells. They are the proliferation of abnormal blood cells that crowd out the normal cells. Blood cancers include leukemia, lymphoma and myeloma and other malignancies of the blood.
There are multiple approaches to treating blood cancers, which include chemotherapy, radiation, targeted therapies which kill the cancer cells by inhibiting the ‘bad acting genes’ that drive the cancer; immunotherapy – harnessing the patient’s own immune system to find and kill the cancer cells.
MT: How does immunotherapy and precision medicine different from chemotherapy?
Dr. DeGennaro: Chemotherapy, which has been used against cancer since the 1940’s, and was first developed to treat patients with leukemia, are chemicals that kill the cancer cells. The challenge with chemotherapy is that it also harms the surrounding healthy cells, so there are lots of negative side effects from chemo.
Now there are other types of therapies to treat blood cancers and other cancers that are more targeted to the cancer cells while causing less harm. This does not mean that these therapies have no side effects.
Examples are immunotherapy – different approaches are being developed to activate the body’s immune system to fight cancer.
Some methods of immunotherapy are: CAR (chimeric antigen receptor) T cellular therapy, takes the patient’s immune T cells, reprograms them so they are able to find and kill the cancer cells. Another type of immunotherapy, immune checkpoint inhibitors, release the brakes on the immune system, by knocking out the protein that enables the cancer to hide from the immune system.
MT: What is the typical survival rate of people who have these forms of cancer?
Dr. DeGennaro: Survival rates for blood cancer patients vary widely depending on the type of blood cancer, the age of the patient and other factors.
Some survival rates have improved dramatically over the past few decades while others remain stubbornly low. For example, children 15 and under diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia have a five-year survival rate of approximately 90 percent, whereas in the 1960’s it was only three percent.
However, acute myeloid leukemia, still has a very dismal prognosis, especially for patients over the age of 60, for whom the five-year survival rate is only about 20 percent.
MT: Is there anything you want to add?
Dr. DeGennaro: LLS is leading the offensive against acute myeloid leukemia (AML) because of its dismal survival rate and because there have been few advances in more than 40 years. We are leading a precision medicine clinical trial – Beat AML Master Trial – using genetic information to identify which subtype of AML the patient has and giving the patient a targeted therapy for their subtype. We think this major collaboration will stand as a model for future cancer clinical trials.
DeGennaro was joined in a video interview by leukemia survivor Loriana Hernandez-Aldama, to discuss cancer advances emerging from the ASCO annual meeting and LLS’s innovative approach to treating a deadly cancer.
See the entire interview below:
[Featured Image by Robin Marchant/Getty Images for The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society]