Like many events, this year’s annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR), which was originally intended to take place on April 24–29, was cancelled owing to the coronavirus disease 19 (COVID-19) pandemic. Nonetheless, noting the continued importance of cancer research and treatment, even during a pandemic, the organizing committee took the decision to hold an abbreviated and entirely virtual meeting on April 28–29, focussing on clinical data. Owing to the lack of a registration fee, accommodation or travel costs, >60,000 people were able to register and ‘attend’ the meeting.
The most memorable session from this year’s meeting will likely be the clinical plenary on COVID-19 and cancer. This session featured new data on the clinical experiences of treating patients with cancer and COVID-19 from hospitals in several parts of China including Wuhan, 12 de Octubre Hospital, Madrid, Gustave Roussy Cancer Centre, Paris, and data from TERAVOLT, an international lung cancer registry set up specifically for patients with COVID-19. Most, but not all, experiences confirmed what previous reports have suggested: patients with cancer seem to have worse COVID-19 outcomes than those without cancer. Other key conclusions are that patients with lung cancer and those with haematological malignancies and/or stage IV disease are most vulnerable. Among treatment-specific effects, associations between chemotherapy or surgery and worse COVID-19 outcomes were suggested by some but not all data; radiotherapy was not associated with worse COVID-19 outcomes.
Elsewhere, early data from KEYNOTE-555 indicated that patients with advanced-stage melanoma can benefit from 6-weekly, 400 mg doses of pembrolizumab (objective response rate 39% among the first 44 patients). This announcement was closely followed by FDA accelerated approval of this dosing schedule.
Other notable clinical findings included data from the I-SPY 2 trial, indicating improved pathological response rates in the neoadjuvant setting for women with triple-negative or HER2-positive breast cancer. Significant improvements in progression-free survival were reported in patients with advanced-stage melanoma in the IMspire150 and SWOG S1320 trials. Finally, data from IMbassador250 revealed no significant improvement in overall survival with the addition of atezolizumab to enzalutamide in men with metastatic castration-resistant prostate cancer.
“The most memorable session from this year’s meeting will likely be the clinical plenary on COVID-19 and cancer”
A second virtual annual meeting, featuring the full range of topics typically covered at AACR, will take place from June 22–24.