1. DiGiulio, Sarah

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This year's American Society of Hematology Annual Meeting showcases the full spectrum of translational research in hematology-from basic research discoveries to new therapies. That was the word from ASH President Linda Burns, MD, Professor of Medicine in the Division of Hematology, Oncology, and Transplantation at the University of Minnesota, asked for some early information about the meeting in time for this issue. "There's programming for everyone, no matter their focus within the field of hematology."

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One exciting area of clinical research is the development of new agents to block tumor growth at crucial points in the molecular pathways of tumorgenesis-checkpoint blockades, Burns noted in an email. "Several early trials incorporating these agents in the treatments of patients will be reported this year."


Another significant area of research, she said, are the new therapeutic drugs entering the market for hematologic malignancies and in the field of coagulation. "The highly collaborative efforts of basic scientists and patient-oriented clinical researchers are key to helping hematologists conquer blood disorders."


President Burns' 'Don't Miss' List

For the Annual Meeting-which will be held December 6-9 at the Moscone Center in San Francisco-"don't-miss" sessions on Burns' list are:


* The Ham-Wasserman Lecture, "Multiple Myeloma: A Modern Model for Scientific and Clinical Progress," during which Jesus San Miguel, MD, PhD, of Universidad de Navarra will discuss the current understanding of the genomic complexity of myeloma cells and the implications for new research and exploring various treatment options (Sat., Dec. 6, 12:30 pm);


* The Presidential Symposium, "Lymphoma: Insights into Pathophysiology and Therapeutic Targets," which will feature talks on next-generation sequencing that has enhanced understanding of the genomic basis of non-Hodgkin lymphoma and has been translated into targeted therapies; molecular drivers of aggressive lymphomas and potential targets for treatment; and the biology and microenvironment of Hodgkin lymphoma (Tues., Dec. 9, 9:45 am); and


* "The Special Education Session: Newly Approved Drugs," an interactive session, which will be moderated by Mikkael A. Sekeres, MD, MS, of Cleveland Clinic, and include short presentations by three speakers on rFVIIIFc and rFIXFc, ibrutinib, and idelalisib, covering the appropriate patient populations to receive the drugs, dosing, side effects, adverse events, drug/drug interactions, and off-label use. "This is the first time we've introduced this type of session into the program formatting," Burns said.



On the Scientific Meeting

Speaking in a telephone interview a few weeks before the meeting, Scientific Program Committee Co-Chair Benjamin Ebert, MD, PhD, Associate Physician of Hematology at Brigham and Women's Hospital and Associate Professor in the Department of Medicine at Harvard Medical School, said that updates in cancer genetics and epigenetics would be found throughout the meeting.


"I think we're coming toward the close of one era of finding all the genes that are commonly mutated in cancer and entering an era of how to use this information in clinical practice-and that will come across in the scientific sessions, the abstracts, and some of the award lectures."


Specifically, he highlighted the Ad Hoc Scientific Committee on Epigenetics and Genomics: "Cancer Genome Conundrum" (Sat., Dec., 6, 4 pm, and Sun., Dec. 7, 9:30 am). "This will be an overview of the benefits of the massive amount of work that has been done over the last five years or so on genome sequencing and cancer with a focus on hematologic malignancies-and there will be some particularly good speakers this year."


Those speakers include: Todd R. Golub, MD, of the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard; Jinghui Zhang, PhD, of St. Jude Children's Research Hospital; and William G. Kaelin Jr., MD, of Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Harvard Medical School.

BENJAMIN EBERT, MD, ... - Click to enlarge in new windowBENJAMIN EBERT, MD, PHD. BENJAMIN EBERT, MD, PHD: "There will be several talks on the use of genome sequencing and other genomic technologies for informing clinical practice."
LINDA BURNS, MD. LIN... - Click to enlarge in new windowLINDA BURNS, MD. LINDA BURNS, MD: "The programming for the meeting is exceptionally diverse."

Another particularly interesting session, Ebert said, will be the Scientific Committee on Blood Disorders in Childhood: "Fixing the Broken Helix: Genome Editing for Disease Correction" (Sat., Dec. 6, 9:30 am, and Sun., Dec. 7, 7:30 am). The session will cover new, improved genome engineering technology that allows the genome to be edited to correct certain disease-causing mutations without creating changes in the rest of the genome. The speakers will discuss the technology and how to put it to use in the clinic, as well as ongoing trials, he said. "This is a really transformative technology that allows the genome to be edited with greater specificity and accuracy than ever before."


CAR-T and More Immunotherapies

Immunotherapy is another key topic on this year's scientific program, which will be covered in featured talks as well as in some of the abstracts. The Special Scientific Symposium on chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T-cell therapy (Sun., Dec. 7, 9:30 am) will feature Carl H. June, MD, of the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine; and Steven A. Rosenberg, MD, PhD, of the Surgery Branch of the National Cancer Institute-"two of the leading researchers in the field," Ebert said.


"T-cells have yielded extraordinary clinical responses in both children and adults with acute lymphoblastic leukemia." And, while the number of patients being treated this way is still relatively small, the patients-who were refractory to all other current therapies-are achieving complete remission and have had no relapse for more than a year now. "This is really a transformative therapy-with applications beyond leukemia, into lymphomas and other kinds of solid tumors and other diseases. It's a beginning of a whole new wave of therapy-and very exciting."


The Special Scientific Symposia are intended to focus on developing areas of research (some not covered in other areas of the meeting) that cut across many different scientific disciplines-including basic science, immunology, and even solid tumor biology, Ebert noted.


On the Education Program-More Science than Before

A noteworthy change to this year's Education Program is the addition of a basic science talk to several education sessions, which set up the clinical discussions in those sessions, explained Education Program Co-chair Johnathan Friedberg, MD, Director of the James P. Wilmot Cancer Center, and the Samuel Durand Professor of Medicine at the University of Rochester.


"Particularly because of the complexity of hematology care, it is important now for clinicians to understand more of the basic mechanisms in order to understand the rationale for combination therapies for certain diseases, as well as their pathogenesis."


Key topics on the program, he said, include: genetics, gene-sequencing, and precision approaches to treatment.


The "'Double Hit' Diffuse Large B-Cell Lymphoma" session highlights the "double-hit" subset of patients with lymphoma (Sat., Dec. 6, 9:30 am, and 4 pm). "The subset-which has been identified just in the last three years or so-is a subset for which we know the prognosis with standard therapy is poor," Friedberg explained. "Many physicians are already changing therapy for these patients-which is highlighted in this program."


The "Current and Future Therapies for Aplastic Anemia and Myelodysplastic Syndromes" session includes discussion on how allogeneic transplant is used to change the natural history of those bone marrow failure syndromes, as well as other non-transplant approaches (Sat., Dec. 6, 2 pm, and Sun., Dec. 7, 9:30 am)-which includes a talk, covering the basic science perspective, about the bone marrow microenvironment and how it might contribute to malignant hematopoiesis.


And "Myeloma: Controversies in Therapy" tackles the long-standing controversy over management of newly diagnosed patients-for transplant-eligible patients with myeloma, whether or not to perform autologous stem cell transplantation in first response (Sat., Dec. 6, 7:30 am, and Sun., Dec. 7, 9:30 am). Philippe Moreau, MD, of University Hospital Hotel-Dieu; and Paul G. Richardson, MD, will each take a stand.


Record Number of Abstracts

A record 6,506 abstracts (not including the late-breaking ones) were submitted for this year's Annual Meeting. The abstracts were still embargoed when this article went to print, but were published online on November 6. We did learn, though, that abstract submissions increased in the following nine scientific categories by 30 percent or more from last year to this year:


* Lymphoma-Chemotherapy (excluding pre-clinical models);


* Platelet Activation and Biochemistry;


* Experimental Transplantation: Basic Biology, Engraftment, and Disease Activity;


* Acute Myeloid Leukemia-Biology and Pathophysiology;


* Health Services and Outcomes Research-Non-malignant conditions;


* Health Services and Outcomes Research-Malignant Diseases;


* Disorders and Coagulation or Fibrinolysis;


* Molecular Pharmacology, Drug Resistance-Myeloid Diseases; and


* Molecular Pharmacology, Drug Resistance-Lymphoid and other diseases.



Key Topics from John Byrd

John C. Byrd, MD, OT's Clinical Advisory Editor for Hematology/Oncology, said these are some of the key topics he's most anticipating at this year's meeting:

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* Updates on targeting isocitrate dehydrogenase 1 (IDH1) in the treatment of acute myeloblastic leukemia;


* Checkpoint inhibitors for the treatment of lymphoma; and


* Confirmatory studies on the use of B-cell receptor inhibitors for chronic lymphocytic leukemia.



As a mentor, he will also be speaking at the Junior Researcher Symposium on Friday, Dec. 5.


Another Reason to Come to the Meeting Early...

On the official program this year are two Friday Scientific Workshops-the Workshop on Myeloid Development and the Workshop on Hematology and Aging-during which researchers will give short, five-slide talks covering the latest research in their labs (Both: Fri., Dec. 5, 1 pm).


"Think of them as rapid-fire sessions that cover an enormous swath of what's exciting right now in hematologic malignancies," said Scientific Committee Co-chair Benjamin Ebert, MD, PhD. "It's a great opportunity for people to hear what's going on in a very short period of time by the principal investigators themselves talking about the latest, most exciting research in their labs."


He noted that the speakers do not need to submit materials in advance, which allows them to present their most recent work. This program is more informal than the abstract presentations-"with room for a lot of questions and discussion."