A decision to hold this year's ASCO annual meeting virtually has been welcomed by oncologists (n=168) given the scale of global disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, although they also recognise some of the challenges that this will bring.
A diminished opportunity to discuss controversial aspects of clinical datasets is one concern oncologists have, which could result in the slower adoption of novel treatment regimens they concede.
The American Association of Cancer Research (AACR) and the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) have recently announced different approaches to mitigate the cancellation of their annual meetings due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The AACR has said that a 'virtual annual meeting preview' will take place next month with an in-person meeting rescheduled (if possible) for August. By comparison, the annual ASCO meeting will still take place in late May/early June, but in a virtual format, with its accompanying educational programme postponed indefinitely at this time.
Of 168 oncologists we snap-polled, 76% said they favour the approach implemented by ASCO, with just 22% preferring AACR's decision to postpone instead of re-formatting. This may reflect a broadly-held view among respondents that rescheduling the meeting for five months' time is not viable given current circumstances.
Nevertheless, ASCO's decision to take their meeting fully virtual poses some challenges, one being the possibility that it is unable to reschedule the accompanying educational programme for later in 2020.
Under such a scenario, 40% of respondents believe this would represent a significant loss for the oncologist community and 47% a moderate loss.
Another potential issue concerns use of a virtual format limiting any discussion around potentially controversial aspects of some clinical datasets.
The vast majority (87%) of oncologists recognise this as an issue, with around a third of respondents describing themselves as being 'very' concerned about its potential implications.
As a result, the same proportion of respondents (87%) believe that their adoption of novel treatment regimens that are initially discussed at virtual medical meetings could occur at a slower rate than if they had been presented at a meeting where practitioners attended in-person.
Sixty-five (65) percent of respondents anticipate that slower adoption of novel therapies will be limited to a short-term time frame, but 22% believe that any impact could also be felt over the longer term.
The upshot, agree a clear majority of oncologists, is that pharmaceutical manufacturers will be required to provide more support to practitioners in terms of clinical data and supplementary scientific resources. Just 16% of respondents disagreed with this assertion.
A quarter of oncologists suggested they will be significantly more reliant on additional resource and support from the relevant drug manufacturer if novel clinical data have been presented in a virtual setting such as this year's ASCO meeting rather than a conference they have attended in person.
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