ASH 2017: Advances in haematology – what does it mean for healthcare communications?

Written by ​Ali Americanos on Friday 15th December 2017

Ali Americanos, Science Director at LEC London (An OPEN Health company) attended the 59th Annual Meeting of ASH in Atlanta this week. This is what he had to say:

It’s an amazing time to be working in cancer therapy. The rate of change is astounding; looking at the list of FDA approvals for 2017 alone is enough to make your head spin. Indeed, there are so many immunotherapy agents in development that some have suggested that this could even be a bad thing.

This burst of development particularly rings true in haematology. At the 59th Annual Meeting of ASH in Atlanta this week, we heard about multiple CAR-T cell therapies, second-generation versions of novel agents that only reached the market a few years ago, and more new combinations than you could shake a laser pointer at. And while there are undoubtedly questions about the affordability of these advances, there is already research underway to look at ways of addressing this, such as allogeneic CAR-T cell therapy.

But given our focus at OPEN Health, I’ve been thinking, what does all this mean for healthcare communications?

Messaging needs to be simple. With more and more treatment options to choose from, decision-making becomes increasingly difficult. In conditions where up until recently choice was limited, we’re seeing new frontline therapies, consolidation therapies, maintenance therapies. Licensed indications are also changing on what feels like a monthly basis, making it harder to know what’s available, for whom, at any given point. Communications need to help the audience navigate through this complexity, a particular focus of ours at LEC. All this in a therapy area where physicians notoriously like to know all the intricate details!

Education about endpoints is crucial, but we mustn’t forget the patient. With new technologies and ever-deeper responses, we’re seeing new endpoints such as minimal residual disease gaining traction. It’s critical that these are clearly explained for the true benefit of a product to be understood. Does MRD correlate to traditional outcomes in this disease? Was it flow cytometry or bone marrow readings? What sensitivity did you use? But amidst these technicalities, we mustn’t lose sight of the patient. What difference does the drug actually make to their lives? This is something that our Patient-Centred Outcomes team at pH Associates is focusing on, helping fulfil FDA and EMA requirements to capture patient-reported outcomes.

Companies need to keep their options open for their brands. In recent years we’ve seen single agents moving into the combination space, as well as new agents aiming to swap out older drugs in multi-agent regimens. In order to be credible in this landscape, you can’t try to undermine a competitor one week and then announce a combination licence with them the next. Companies will need to work hard to identify what their brand brings to the party, and why it should be on the combination team. As with the new PD-1 combinations in solid tumours, we're also seeing more and more high-profile joint ventures between companies who may have previously considered themselves competitors, indicating the need for a new spirit of collaboration.

To sum up, I leave Atlanta feeling inspired by the dedication of researchers and haematologists alike, with even more focus on what we can do to clearly communicate the benefits of new treatment approaches for patients around the globe.

If you would like to get in touch with Ali, please email him at Or for more information about the work LEC do, get in contact with DItlev Ahlefeldt-Laurvig, Group Managing Director at LEC on