A reflection on ESMO 2018

Written by Sean McGrath on Thursday 8th November 2018

Fresh off the back of a busy ESMO 2018, Sean McGrath (Director of Oncology at OPEN Health) had a few moments to pause and answer our pressing questions about his experience:

What were the highlights of the ESMO 2018 congress for you?

"There were a number of really cool things, but the two stand-out points in my opinion were the IMpassion130 and SOLO-1 trial presentations.

Roche’s IMpassion130 trial (for atezolizumab + nab-paclitaxel in metastatic triple-negative breast cancer [mTNBC]) is incredibly important as this is a type of breast cancer with no current effective treatments (other kinds of breast cancer are really well served as they have a specific target to aim at which isn’t the case here) – so this data was very powerful.

Equally, a big highlight for me was the SOLO-1 trial (for maintenance olaparib [AstraZeneca’s PARP inhibitor] following platinum-based chemotherapy, in newly diagnosed patients with advanced ovarian cancer and BRCA1/2 mutation) the results showed at least 3 years increase in PFS which is a massive improvement for these patients." 

Any big surprises in terms of the data?

"The Pfizer JAVELIN RENAL 101 trial (avelumab + axitinib as first line treatment of advanced renal cell carcinoma) was set to be the big renal trial of the congress (we knew from the press release that the headlines were going to be good PFS), then the day before the conference kicked-off MSD surprised us with a press release on their KEYNOTE-426 trial (pembrolizumab + axitinib as first line treatment of advanced renal cell carcinoma) which met both its primary endpoints, with a significant improvement in both PFS and OS – a bit of an unexpected announcement, and seemed to knock the wind out of the sails of the JAVELIN data somewhat…"

 Did the programme reflect the ESMO 2018 tagline ‘Securing access to optimal cancer care’?

"Yes absolutely, I went to a great talk on a piece of research where they measured how long it took patients to access drugs after the EMA have approved them – France was the fastest, followed by Germany, then Scotland, and finally England (which was 4x slower than France). Essentially, the EMA are doing things really quickly but individual countries are slowing the system down with their own additional processes, which is frustrating! And in terms of Brexit there is a feeling that the MHRA will adopt the EMAs position on drugs to keep things running smoothly."

 Sean, you’ve been attending the annual ESMO congress for many years now, how have you seen it change in that time?

"I’ve seen the ESMO annual congress continue to expand each year and its 2nd only to ASCO in terms of its importance as a general oncology meeting. There’s been a huge increase in the quality of the science and the real practice-changing data presented (by which I mean data that genuinely goes on to change how doctors are treating their patients for the better!). It’s grown from a few thousand attendees in the early days to 28,000 this year! The exhibition hall is now huge and clearly the level of organisation has increased along with the technology, which is much slicker nowadays."

 And most importantly, how was the social scene?!

"In a word – busy! I’ve found that when you’re at ESMO there are things going on all the time; if you’re not in a data presentation then you’re meeting a contact for coffee or dinner. These big congresses are for many the only time in their busy calendars to catch up with their connections. It’s an occasion for all types of people to meet, both formally and socially; you see equity firms, small emerging biotechs, top-20 pharma, and global opinion leaders all under one roof – it’s a great atmosphere to be a part of!"

For further information about OPEN Health and the specialist businesses within our group, please contact Carwyn Jones Partnerships Director at OPEN Health carwynjones@openhealth.co.uk.