What's Hot at ECC 2015? Immunotherapy and Rare Cancers

Zosia Chustecka

September 22, 2015

New results with immunotherapy, including long-term efficacy findings, and also clinical benefit in rare cancers, are among the highlights of the forthcoming European Cancer Congress (ECC) 2015, to be held in Vienna from September 25 to 29.

The meeting is being held jointly by the European CanCer Organisation (ECCO) and the European Society for Medical Oncology (ESMO), and this is the last time that the two societies will collaborate on such a conference.

The ECC meeting is very much a multidisciplinary affair, said Elisabeth de Vries MD, PhD, professor ofmedical oncology at the Groningen University Medical Center in the Netherlands and cochair of the scientific committee for ESMO. "It's not just of interest to one discipline.... In general, you don't treat a cancer patient alone, you treat with other disciplines...and this integration is a very important and special aspect of this meeting," she said in an interview.

Immunotherapy continues to be the hottest topic in cancer, and at the meeting there will be new results showing long-term efficacy. "The data are now maturing, which is exciting," Dr de Vries told Medscape Medical News. Plus, there will be new data showing efficacy in many different tumor types, in addition to the already-approved indications of melanoma and lung cancer.

"The beauty of this [immunotherapy] is that it seems to work across tumor types," commented Dr de Vries, although she added that "it definitely does not work in everyone."

The efficacy seen with many of the new immunotherapies, including nivolumab (Opdivo, Bristol-Myers Squibb) and pembrolizumab (Keytruda, Merck & Co.), has generated excitement over how immunotherapy will impact the whole field of cancer, and also where it will fit alongside existing therapeutic modalities, including chemotherapy, targeted agents, as well as surgery and radiotherapy. "It's exciting to speculate how this might influence everything," Dr de Vries said.

Other news coming out of the meeting will show progress being made in some rarer cancer types, including neuroendocrine tumors and renal cell carcinoma. These data, much of which will be presented at the presidential sessions or late-breaking abstracts, are "new, different, and interesting," Dr de Vries said. Often, there are impressive developments in breast or lung cancer, but "there are numerous tumor types that are less frequently occurring, and these comprise a substantial proportion of the cancer patient population, so it is nice that we have new data for these as well," she said.

The press program features results in renal cell carcinoma from METEOR with cabozantinib (Cometriq, Exelixis) and the CheckMate 025 trial of nivolumab, and in neuroendocrine tumors from the RADIANT-4 trial with everolimus (Afinitor, Novartis) and the NETTER-1 trial with a radiolabeled derivative of octreotide, Lutetium 177-DOTA-Octreotate, known as (177Lu) DOTATATE.

Some of the data presented at the ECC meeting will be published simultaneously in major medical journals.

Two commissions from Lancet Oncology will be presented at the meeting and published simultaneously — one addressing global access to radiotherapy, and the other addressing access to safe and effective cancer surgery.

The meeting will also hear the latest results from EUROCARE, the widest collaborative research project on cancer survival in Europe. The project collates data from a large number of population-based cancer registries throughout Europe, and has been reporting results since the late 1990s.

The latest edition, EUROCARE-5, will report on data from over 10 million patients diagnosed with cancer (between 1995 and 2007) and followed up to 2008, with an unprecedented coverage of 50% of the European population. The results will be published in a series in the European Journal of Cancer to coincide with their presentation at the meeting.

Last Meeting of its Kind

Perhaps the biggest news about this conference, however, is that it will be the last meeting of its kind. In the past, this ECC meeting hosted jointly by ECCO and ESMO has alternated every other year with a European cancer meeting hosted by ESMO alone. But from now on, the two organizations will be working separately.

ESMO has previously said that it intends to go it alone, and the organization now plans to host an annual cancer conference in the autumn of each year, with ESMO 2016 in Copenhagen on October 7 to 11, 2016, and ESMO 2017 in Madrid on September 8 to 12, 2017.

ECCO has now said that it will also be hosting an annual conference, with the first in the new series of meeting being ECCO 2017, to be held January 27 to 30, 2017, in Amsterdam.

ECCO President Martine Piccart, MD, PhD, professor of oncology at the Université Libre de Bruxelles in Belgium, told Medscape Medical News in a statement: "While we are sorry to confirm that it will no longer be held in conjunction with ESMO's annual meeting, we believe...that we can build on the success of our previous Congresses, presenting exciting and cutting-edge developments that will be of interest to significant numbers of clinicians from different disciplines in oncology."

ECCO 2017 has the full support of ECCO's diverse member societies — such as the European Society of Surgical Oncology (ESSO), the European Society for Radiotherapy and Oncology (ESTRO), the European Oncology Nursing Society (EONS), and the European Society for Pediatric Oncology (SIOPE) — and all of these will play an active role in the design of its innovative content, Dr Piccart noted. The congress will bring together all stakeholders: the oncology community at large, primary care teams (including general practitioners), as well as regulators, payers, policymakers, and health economics/technology assessment specialists, she added.

ESMO President Rolf A. Stahel, head of the Center for Lung and Thoracic Oncology at the Clinic of Oncology, University Hospital of Zürich, told Medscape Medical News in a statement: "ESMO has decided to organize its own annual congress in Europe to best meet the needs of its members and to accommodate the rapid pace of change in oncology."

"The increasing complexity of, and opportunities in, cancer treatment as a result of discoveries in cancer biology, as well as developments in molecular analysis, immunotherapeutic novelties — to mention only some — is creating dramatic and rapid changes in the oncology profession. As a result, oncologists must adapt to the latest standards of practice and continually maintain and update their competencies and knowledge," he said.

"At the same time, ESMO is and will remain a founding member of ECCO. We remain fully committed to support ECCO in developing its focus on oncopolicy and quality of care — as umbrella organizations typically do — ensuring that oncology is able to speak with a united voice at a European level," Dr Stahel said.

The issue of how European cancer conferences will look in the future is discussed in the latest issue of Cancer World, in an editorial written by Alberto Costa, MD, coordinator of the breast surgery unit at the Maugeri Foundation in Pavia, Italy, and cofounder and director of the European School of Oncology in Milan.

Dr Costa points out that "the Americans have decided to keep well separated the physician researchers (AACR), the cancer doctors (ASCO), the nurses (ONS), and the patient advocates. Here in Europe we have a long tradition of working together, but the will to continue to do so is now in danger." He ends the editorial wondering if Vienna is going to be a "goodbye" or an "arrivederci".

Responding to the editorial, the ESMO president said that Vienna is not a "goodbye," but "definitely marks a new start" within an evolved context where ECCO will be able to focus efforts on oncopolicy representing all its member associations at the European level, while scientific societies will continue to provide regular educational opportunities to their individual members."

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