Virtually Intriguing: Annual ASCO Conference Highlights Oncology Innovation


Like so many other conferences and events, ASCO transitioned to an online format because of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) outbreak.

Late in May, I was offered the opportunity to attend the virtual annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO). Originally slated to take place in Chicago, ASCO20, like so many other conferences and events, transitioned to an online format because of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) outbreak.

Being curious, as I had never attended and was eager to hear about the most promising oncology treatments in development, I quickly registered and selected the sessions I was most interested in from the agenda. What I wasn’t prepared for was the overwhelming amount of content: 5290 abstracts, to be exact.

How would I ever choose? I decided the most efficient plan of attack would be to start by attending the Opening and Highlights Sessions and then seek out other content that would meet my goal of ensuring I covered the most important topics of the conference.

The first morning of the conference, agenda and a huge mug of coffee in hand, I settled in front of my computer for the Opening Session. ASCO President Skip Burris kicked the meeting off with a heartwarming recorded message and then welcomed David Fajgenbaum, MD, who shared his courageous journey as a patient with Castleman’s disease and his quest to find a cure. To say he was inspiring doesn’t begin to do justice to this man’s incredible fortitude.

Following the keynote, I listened to several Highlights Sessions on both Saturday and Sunday, delivered by clinicians around the world. In addition to hearing from the subject matter experts presenting, there was a constant exchange of messaging via the chat.

Questions were posed, opinions were stated, and attendees even commented on their locations and time of day. One woman shared that she was participating from her garden in Germany. Although there was apparently some difficulty with online meeting access, for me the virtual engagement was remarkable and the technology superb.

In addition to the virtual sessions, many large manufacturers presented multiple abstracts, highlighting the strength of the oncology pipeline. The trend continues toward those drugs that become more targeted to both tumor mutations and those that treat orphan diseases. Below are a few of the products I heard and/or read about.


Denosumab is the first fully human monoclonal antibody targeting the RANK Ligand, a mediator of osteoclast activity. It is being studied in several phase 2 trials for the treatment of giant cell tumor of the bone as well as its effects on markers of bone destruction in prostate and breast cancers.

Panitumumab (Vectibix) is being evaluated in multiple phase 3 studies for metastatic colorectal cancer with both FOLFIRI and FOLFOX.

AMG 102 and AMG 479 are both fully human monoclonal antibodies being evaluated for advanced solid tumors.


AZD9833 is currently in pre-clinical models of breast cancer.

Savolitinib is a candidate in phase 2 trial for patients with pulmonary sarcomatoid carcinoma and other types of non-small cell lung cancer that have the MET exon 14 skipping mutation.

Capivasertib and Paclitaxel is being evaluated in phase 3 trial for first-line treatment of metastatic triple negative breast cancer.


Nubeqa (darolutamide), when given in combination with androgen deprivation therapy for non-metastatic castration resistant prostate cancer, significantly improves overall survival versus androgen deprivation therapy alone.


Blueprint submitted pralsetinib for FDA approval for RET fusion-positive NSCLC in 1Q 2020 and hopes to have approval in 6 months. It will compete with Lilly’s selpercatinib (see below); however, based on pralsetinib’s complete response rate, experts expect to see significant uptake of pralsetinib.


BMS presented data from 2 clinical trials of Opdivo and Yervoy combinations for non-small cell lung cancer. With Bluebird, BMS presented updated study results from the phase 2 KarMMA trial of Ide-cel.


Tiragolumab is a novel immunotherapy that binds to TGIT, whereas Tecentriq Is a PD-L1 checkpoint inhibitor. Together, the 2 compounds have the potential to improve anti-tumor activity and have yielded positive results in the phase 2 CITYSCAPE trial for PD-L1 positive metastatic non-small cell lung cancer.


Teclistamab is an investigational bispecific antibody targeting both B-cell maturation antigen and CD3 receptors on T-cells. It is being studied for multiple myeloma in several trials. The patients had been previously treated with a proteasome inhibitor and an immunomodulatory drug and had relapsed or were refractory. Treatment resulted in significant responses from 67% of patients and complete responses in 3 patients.

Niraparib was shown to selectively reduce tumor size in metastatic urothelial carcinoma in patients with metastatic castration-resistant prostate cancer.

Anti-PD-1 monoclonal antibody ketrelimab, in combination with Balversa, is being studied in locally advanced mUC with genetic mutations.


Lilly presented data for selpercatinib studies in non-small cell lung cancer, as well as medullary thyroid cancer. They also presented additional data for ongoing evaluation of Verzenio in advanced breast cancer and for Cyramza and Alimta in lung cancer.


Keytruda is being studied in combination with chemotherapy as a first-line treatment for metastatic triple-negative breast cancer in the phase 3 KEYNOTE-355, showing a statistically significant improvement in progression-free survival in patients whose tumors expressed PD-L1 with an increase to a median of 9.7 months.

I was personally drawn to learning more about the gene therapy but will have to review the abstracts later. One of the most exciting is VB-111 (ofranergene obadenovec), which is a first-in-class targeted anti-cancer gene therapy from VBL for platinum-resistant ovarian cancer. Early results provided a response rate of more than 58%.

In addition to the highlights above, there was significant attention on CAR-T therapies. Both Allogene and Celyad reported impressive results. I’ve marked those abstracts to review later.

All in all, the first virtual ASCO conference was a huge hit for me. Not only were there more than 42,750 attendees (a new record) from 138 different countries, but also those 5290 abstracts and more than 2300 oral and poster presentations. Yes, it was overwhelming, but in an intriguing way. ASCO also presented its 2020 Education Program virtually, August 8—10, and I’m already making plans to attend the Annual Meeting again in 2021, whether it is held in person or online.

About the Author

Diane Wolfe, RPh, is National Director of Manufacturer Relations, ExceleraRx Corp.

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