After a meeting like the 2022 ASCO Annual Meeting, one cannot help but be reinvigorated to continue advancing cancer care and feel optimistic about the future of oncology, says John M. Burke, MD.
After seeing all the amazing presentations at the American Society of Oncology (ASCO) Annual Meeting, I cannot help but reflect on how far our field has come over the course of my 20-year career.
In 2000, I moved from San Francisco, California, to New York, New York, to begin my fellowship at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. My first rotation was on the inpatient myeloma, lymphoma, and autologous stem cell transplant service, where I encountered patients with myeloma and painful bone lesions causing fractures and spinal cord compressions. We treated patients with myeloma with chemotherapy and autologous stem cell transplant. Thalidomide (Thalomid) was starting to make a splash by showing strong efficacy in myeloma trials, and bortezomib (Velcade) emerged during those years, as well.
Nevertheless, the state of the art was exemplified by an article in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2003, describing the results of an Intergroupe Francophone du Myélome (IFM) trial. Myeloma patients were treated with vincristine, doxorubicin, and dexamethasone induction followed by single or double autologous stem cell transplant. The median event-free survival was 2 years and the median overall survival was 4 years, which seem grim by modern standards.
Fast forward about 20 years to the Plenary Session of the 2022 ASCO Annual Meeting, at which we saw the results of modern therapy in the DETERMINATION trial (NCT01208662). Patients treated with the modern standard regimen of lenalidomide (Revlimid), bortezomib, and dexamethasone followed by autologous stem cell transplant achieved a median progression-free survival of 5.5 years. In the IFM trial 20 years ago, approximately 50% of patients were alive at 4 years. In DETERMINATION, 85% of patients were alive at 4 years. We’ve come a long way.
DETERMINATION represents only an infinitesimal fraction of the degree of innovation demonstrated at the ASCO meeting: an antibody-drug conjugate besting conventional chemotherapy in patients with low expression of the HER2 target in breast cancer; a KRAS inhibitor demonstrating marked activity in KRAS-mutated non–small cell lung cancer; a bispecific antibody redirecting T cells to suppress diffuse large B-cell lymphoma; an antibody-drug conjugate added to chemotherapy, extending survival in Hodgkin lymphoma compared with the decades-old standard-of-care regimen; and a checkpoint inhibitor rendering mismatch repair–deficient rectal cancer completely helpless.
After a meeting like this, one cannot help but be reinvigorated to continue advancing cancer care and feel optimistic about the future of oncology. We have a lot of progress to celebrate—and a lot more to accomplish.