Pharma Strategy Blog

Commentary on Pharma & Biotech Oncology / Hematology New Product Development

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:

  1. Why are only medical professionals included and how are they defined?
  2. What about MD’s working for pharma companies as businesspeople?
  3. What about Ph.D’s, RN’s, pharmacists who are working for a company or who are members of the media like myself?
  4. What about medical professionals working for patient advocacy groups?
  5. 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 :(.

17 Responses to “Strange goings on at #ASH2010”

  1. Histidine57

    How many “medical professionals” are allowed to attend press conferences during major scientific meetings? Welcome to the world of exclusivity my friend. Sucks to be you 😉

    • maverickny

      Heh good point, although most doctors have to be dragged kicking and screaming to press conferences 🙂

  2. Silja

    By excluding you, they excluded all of us, reliant to read your blog, to understand things like DNA-repair pathways. Media’s role is to go to these sessions to educate the public about these news breaking items. So I do not understand why they would be excluded.

    Business seems to be a more logic choice…at first glance, but at second glance, dear ASH, aren’t you dependent on business to be able show exactly that from which you are trying to exclude them? …and maybe you did not have enough seats for everyone BECAUSE you try to keep business out 😉

    • maverickny

      I think what made me grumpier was the incredible clashes of oral sessions on Monday for leukemia, lymphomas and myeloma both therapy and biology sessions… crazy.

      The running between multiple rooms, up and down corridors and escalators across 4 floors to catch important things was just exhausting – it put a new angle on #blisterwalk. It wasn’t just me, lots of bewildered physicians were also doing it. As one put it, “So I have to present in this biology session but I can’t attend the presentation of a key trial I participated in because the schedules clash!”

      This could have easily been avoided by running the biology sessions over the weekend, when most people I met were bored stiff for long periods of inactivity.

      Sadly, this year I missed a lot of oral therapy and biology sessions I really would have liked to have attended 🙁

  3. Adam Bristol

    I’m a PhD at the conference and I signed up for the DNA Repair session when I registered way back when. I received a ticket when I picked up my materials. Guess we’ll see if they let me in.

      • Adam Bristol

        Hi Sally,
        Quick note: I had no trouble attending the DNA Repair session and, frankly, I have no idea why it was restricted to medical professionals only. It was similar in format and scope as any other scientific sessions at the meeting – a lot basic biology and current status and rationale behind translational work. Needless to say, it was fascinating stuff. I took copiuos notes that I’m happy to share with you and your readers, if interested.

  4. Emma C.

    I understand your sentiments, maybe Mr.Adam Bristol can give us exact updates.
    This is somewhat frustrating because we are all eager to know these recent developments.

  5. @marksphone

    I think this is more about the inability of medical societies to identify ways to look purer than Caesar’s wife when it comes to the association with Pharma, etc. It feels like the pendulum swings of a manic rather than a well considered strategy.

    With that being said it does not speak well for transparency of ASH, scientific exchange, and knowledge. It feels ‘racist’ toward those excluded. Perhaps we are moving back to the dark ages of science where only those who were exclusive members of a cult could participate.

    • maverickny

      It did feel that way, a bit, Mark, although I’m sure that it wasn’t intended.

      It turns out that it was a limited (100 people) ticketed event, although I do think it could have been better communicated in the program rather than the stark way it ended up.

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