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AACR 2017 Annual Meeting: Highlights Progress, Promise and Challenges in Cancer Research

By BCRF | April 4, 2017

Outgoing AACR President and Member BCRF Scientific Advisory Board, Dr. Nancy Davidson delivers powerful opening address

The American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) is hosting its annual meeting in Washington D.C. featuring five days of highlights of the best cancer science and medicine from institutions all over the world. More than 21,000 participants from 80 countries are in attendance making this the largest meeting in AACR’s 110 year history.

In her presidential address titled: “Road to Cancer Cures: Discover, Predict, Prevent and Treat”,Dr. Nancy Davidson marked the end of her term as 2016-17 AACR President with an inspiring call to action highlighting both the exciting pace of cancer research and the challenges ahead.

Dr. Davidson noted the promises of new technologies such as CRISPR- cas9 gene editing and liquid biopsy that are accelerating discoveries that will improve treatment and prevention; advances in translational science spurred by The Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA); data sharing platforms that will advance precision medicine and advances in clinical research that have yielded new targeted and immune therapies and novel clinical trial designs that match cancer treatments to a patient’s tumor mutations.

Our understanding of tumor biology is dramatically different from a decade ago, driven by research that has uncovered the complex cellular and molecular characteristics of tumors and the influences of the local tumor environment on tumor growth, metastasis and response to treatments.

We have made significant strides in prevention and early detection of devastating cancers through the National Lung Screening Trial and the development of the HPV vaccine for prevention of cervical and other cancers.

In spite of these wins, Dr. Davidson stressed that the fight against cancer is far from a victory. The global burden of cancer is predicted to rise dramatically as the world population ages. Cancer incidence is expected to increase from 15.2 million cases in 2015 to 24 million by 2035 and cancer deaths are expected to rise from 8.9 million to over 14.5 million.

Dr. Davidson cited several research priorities to address the challenges of the growing cancer burden, including the development of a pre-cancer genome atlas. Modeled after the TCGA, a P-CGA would be a map of gene mutations that occur early in cellular transformation before cancers become clinically meaningful so that better screening and preventive strategies can be developed. On the clinical front the development of more rational combination treatments, and optimal use of the tools we already have will be critical in prevention, early detection and treatment.

Dr. Davidson announced a renewed commitment from AACR to dramatically change the face of cancer by 2035. She highlighted the following priorites for AACR essential in achieving this goal:

  • Accelerating research, with a particular focus in cancer prevention and disparities;
  • Disseminating knowledge to the research and medical communities, as well as to patients and policy makers;
  • Enabling and promoting collaboration to accelerate translational research and precision medicine;
  • Ensuring resources, emphasizing the need to ensure the pipeline of young investigators have the resources they need to advance their careers.

“This is not a time to retreat from the fight against cancer,” Dr. Davidson said, referring to the proposed federal budget that will cut more than 60 percent from the NIH budget, as well as taking back the $1.2 billion of the $2 billion approve by the 110th Congress in 2016 to support efforts of the Precision Medicine Initiative and 21st Century Cures Act.

Dr. Davidson stressed the need for continued and predictable national investment in cancer research to sustain the progress and ensure the careers of thousands of young investigators who will be charged with fulfilling the promises of today’s discoveries.

This sense of urgency was echoed by former Vice President Joe Biden in his address on Monday, highlighting the progress that has been made in the inaugural months of the Beau Biden Moonshot Initiative. He stressed the need for Congress to continue their support of this important initiative.

Dr. Nancy Davidson sat down with BCRF to discuss the AACR Annual Meeting as well the progress and promise she has witnessed during her tenure as AACR president. Click here to watch the entire Facebook Live interview.