One of the highlights for me in attending this American Society of Hematology meeting is the increasing number of science presentations. This is important because ultimately, as our understanding of the underlying biology of diseases such as hematologic cancers improves, so does our skill and knowledge in figuring out ways to overcome those quirks and potentially develop new therapeutics that improve outcomes.
This is what this blog is really all about – the science and biology of cancer and how research from bench to bedside is making any impact on people’s lives. I’m a Ph.D scientist, so this is what interests me most. We may not be able to cure most cancers, but we are starting to shift some of them from an acute to a chronic disease. This is progress indeed.
It was therefore with some dismay to discover that the one of the sessions here I was most excited about, I actually cannot attend! That is a first at any conference I’ve actually received registration for.
Imagine, I was really excited by the thought of attending the Monday session entitled:
“DNA-repair pathways: cancer syndromes to novel therapies”
After all, I’ve been writing about the science of DNA repair, synthetic lethality and PARP inhibition on this blog since 2006 and most of the data has emerged in solid tumours, especially breast and ovarian cancers. The idea that it might have some application in hematologic malignancies is therefore new and potentially ground breaking, so well worth covering from a science and news perspective.
But take a look at this – while putting my schedule together, the small print in the program clearly says:
“The Education Spotlight Sessions are restricted to medical professionals only; no businesspersons or media will be admitted.”
Here’s a photo of the statement:
This rather unfriendly and unexpected policy raises several questions:
- Why are only medical professionals included and how are they defined?
- What about MD’s working for pharma companies as businesspeople?
- What about Ph.D’s, RN’s, pharmacists who are working for a company or who are members of the media like myself?
- What about medical professionals working for patient advocacy groups?
- Why do this at all? It’s not something that I ever recall seeing at ASH in the 15 years I’ve been coming to this annual event.
A quick look at the ASH website didn’t help much as I have to run around over 1,000 posters to catch up on the hot new things, I don’t have much time to surf for policies etc when there are more important things to do.
That said, one of the huge advantages of oncology science and medical conferences is the multidisciplinary and collaborative approach that has evolved over the last decade to everyone’s benefit, not least the speeding up of bench to bedside therapeutic development that has led to improved outcomes for people living with many different hematologic cancers.
Limiting access to only select individuals, rather than the greater good for all who wish to attend does none of us any good in the long run – it’s a backwards, not a forwards step, sadly.
It isn’t often that I’ve attended a medical oncology conference and actually felt like a second class citizen or a need to rant at the unfairness of something, but that day finally arrived this morning :(.