For the past several years, the release of the abstracts accompanying ASCO, the world’s largest cancer meeting, meant a long night of bleary-eyed page turning, as clinicians, investors, and of course members of the news media searched for pearls among thousands of scientific reports. The treasure: a compound showing activity against cancer. The next day was punctuated by business stories on cable business channels, in the newspaper, and on the newly-emerging web touting the next big thing.
But this year, the big story wasn’t about a new drug. Indeed, it was about two studies on cancer screening highlighted in the pre-release media briefing. The coverage included excellent reporting by Marilynn Marchione at Associated Press and Liz Szabo at USA Today, both of whom interviewed our experts.
To be fair, there were also some interesting drug studies. One of the country’s top pharma business writers, the wonderful Adam Feuerstein at TheStreet.com was tweeting for hints soon after the release, and published a great write up of the most interesting data.
But the big story is screening, and ironically, not a new device, or a study showing screening saves more lives, but rather a study that shows, quite dramatically, that there are limits to cancer screening. As Chief Medical Officer Otis Brawley told AP regarding the ovarian screening abstract: “So many people say `how can cancer screening be harmful?’ This thing documents it.”
What does this mean? It may be further evidence that, as Dr. Len Lichtenfeld said in a guest blog on CNBC after ASCO 2010, “Whereas we thought that we were on the express train, we are finding that roadblocks abound.” We’ll hear more of this, I’m sure, during ASCO 2011, which starts on June 3 in Chicago. We’ll be there.