ESMO Guidelines Provide 'Clear Blueprint' for Managing Immunotherapy Toxicities

David J. Kerr, CBE, MD, DSc


February 27, 2023

This transcript has been edited for clarity.

I'm David Kerr, professor of cancer medicine at University of Oxford. I'd like to talk to you today about something specific and generic around guidelines.

Annals of Oncology, my old journal, has just published an outstanding set of guidelines delivered by the ESMO (European Society for Medical Oncology) guidelines group. It's around the management of toxicities from immunotherapy, and it's the ESMO Clinical Practice Guideline for diagnosis, treatment, and follow-up, delivered by Dr Haanen and, of course, a number of colleagues on behalf of the wider committee.

Have a look at it. I'm not going to talk about the details of it. It's very well written. It's very clear and evidence-based, of course. There are many helpful hints and a very clear blueprint as to how we should better manage the myriad of potential side effects from immunotherapy.

It tells us a little about the basis of the science, some of the mechanistic work that's going on in allowing us to understand why some people react in such different ways, almost as if the immune systems are primed to overreact. It gives a very helpful, stepwise look at how we best diagnose, manage, and, in the longer term, follow up patients who have problems with these very important drugs.

All of us recognize the extraordinary impact they've made across a wide range of different tumor types, and therefore, as practicing oncologists and healthcare professionals in the field, all of us need to understand better the details as to how we better care for our patients on these drugs.

Have a look at it. It's well written and useful, and I think it's a document that I'll turn to when I'm looking for a refresher or advice in the future.

The generic focus is about guidelines. Many years ago, I was one of the architects of the British National Cancer Plan, and for me, there were four simple principles at that stage in our development of how we would improve the delivery of cancer control in the United Kingdom. It was around site specialization, particularly of our surgical colleagues who embraced this with vigor. God bless them.

It was using guidelines to help level up the quality of treatment that we were giving, of course underpinned by research, and using — one would hope — modern IT and telecommunications to improve the networking that we use to deliver multidisciplinary cancer care, one of the key elements. Guidelines were embedded in that.

A couple of years ago, we did a survey of cancer physicians around the world. Almost 30 different countries were represented, and we asked which guidelines were most used. It was a very interesting set of responses. The three dominant guidelines — this will surprise no one — are the NCCN (National Comprehensive Cancer Network) guidelines, the ESMO guidelines, and the ASCO (American Society of Clinical Oncology) guidelines.

Rather than selecting one and one being completely dominant, what seemed to be the case is that our colleagues around the world dipped in and used all three. They may prefer NCCN for some particular tumor type or some particular aspect of how they're structured, but at the same time, we would dip into the ESMO guidelines for specific bits of help, as well as the ASCO guidelines.

I find this fascinating. I assume that in different regions, depending on how they were affiliated in terms of additional training or links to Europe or links to the US, that one or other of these guideline groups would predominate, but no. In each country, in each region, given the large databank that we have of guidelines now, it's a sort of pick-and-mix situation.

I was initially surprised but then took comfort from it. There's nothing I hate more than the wasted energy of reduplication and saying, well come on, if there is one guideline set that does truly command the attention of the world, then the other should stop. It's wasted energy, which is something that none of us can afford.

The fact that each of these trusted, evidence-based, beautifully presented guidelines is used in different ways was important. A message to the guideline groups from me is, "Thank you for your professionalism, for the hard work of hundreds of cancer specialists from all different specialties, and for their contribution to developing these guidelines."

It's worth it, it's working, people are using them, and they're making a difference. It's all about leveling up the quality of cancer care that we deliver.

Specifically, have a look at the ESMO immune guidelines. They are great. I hope you find them helpful. Generically, thanks to all of you who are contributing and working so hard to make these data available to improve the quality of cancer care around the world.

Thanks for listening, as always. I'm interested in any comments that you might have, but for the time being, Medscapers, ahoy.

David J. Kerr, CBE, MD, DSc, is a professor of cancer medicine at the University of Oxford. He is recognized internationally for his work in the research and treatment of colorectal cancer and has founded three university spin-out companies: COBRA Therapeutics, Celleron Therapeutics, and Oxford Cancer Biomarkers. In 2002, he was appointed Commander of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II.

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