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SABCS 2021: Highlights and Takeaways from The Conference

By BCRF | January 26, 2022

In addition to scientific developments, researchers shared important conversations about equity, care, and COVID-19

The four days of the internationally renowned San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium were filled with new data and important conversations from the world’s leading breast cancer researchers. The hybrid meeting—participants appeared both in person and virtually—featured numerous BCRF investigators and presentations of BCRF-funded research. Below, we recap some of the major scientific and program highlights from the event.

Clinical Trials Snapshot

Major symposia like SABCS are venues for researchers to share long-awaited results from clinical trials with the public, and this year’s program delivered with several exciting presentations:

  • The SAFIR02 (NCT02299999) phase II clinical trial reported by BCRF investigator Dr. Fabrice André found that multigene sequencing could drive a personalized targeted therapy strategy in some metastatic HER2-negative breast cancer patients (including both estrogen receptor–positive and triple-negative patients), improving their treatment outcomes.
  • EMERALD, (NCT03778931) an international phase III randomized trial, demonstrated that elacestrant provided patients a significant improvement in progression-free survival—uncovering a potential new option for patients with metastatic estrogen receptor–positive/HER2-negative breast cancer that has advanced on CDK4/6 treatment.
  • In patients living with HER2-positive brain metastases, updates from the HER2CLIMB (NCT02614794) trial presented by BCRF investigator Dr. Nancy Lin continue to show that tucatinib (Tukysa®) in combination with trastuzumab (Herceptin®) and capecitabine provided an improved overall survival benefit of 9.1 months above that seen with trastuzumab and capecitabine alone. And in another trial, DESTINY-Breast03 (NCT03529110), investigators reported that one antibody drug conjugate (Fam trastuzumab deruxtecan/T-DXd/Enhertu®) outperforms another (ado trastuzumab emtansine/T-DM1/Kadcyla®).  

Check out BCRF’s extensive reporting on SABCS clinical trial presentations.

BCRF Investigators Recognized

In recognition of their scientific contributions, BCRF investigators were lauded with three of the symposium’s marquee awards: Dr. Funmi Olopade received the William L. McGuire Lecture Award for her significant contributions to breast cancer research, particularly her pioneering work addressing worldwide disparities in care. BCRF’s Scientific Director Dr. Judy Garber was awarded the Brinker Award for Scientific Distinction in Clinical Research for her major impact on breast cancer care. And Dr. André received AACR’s prestigious Outstanding Investigator Award for Breast Cancer Research—underwritten by BCRF—which recognizes notable accomplishments made before the age of 50.

RELATED: Dr. André discusses SAFIR02 and the future of personalized medicine.

Reflecting on Two Years of COVID-19

The conference’s sparsely populated lecture halls provided an ever-present reminder that the COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact us all, and SABCS addressed this head-on in a conversation that discussed COVID’s effects across the cancer continuum.

This special session opened with a panel discussion, featuring patient advocates who all stressed that cancer patients should get vaccinated and continue their treatment courses when feasible. This was followed by presentations covering the pandemic’s effect on cancer center operations: how it has both stressed current systems and forced the expansion of innovative new practices in care and clinical trials that may live on after the pandemic.

Building Trust to Improve Breast Cancer Care

One of the most impactful speeches of the SABCS program was given in the “Trust in Science and Healthcare” session. Dr. Lori Wilson gave a keynote not only as chief of the division of Surgical Oncology at Howard University, but also as a metastatic breast cancer thriver.  

On her own cancer journey, Dr. Wilson was able to successfully enroll in a clinical trial—recognizing that she, as a Black woman, is typically underrepresented in trials even though Black women are equally affected by breast cancer. Dr. Wilson credited the trust she had in her clinical care team to help her navigate that process.

Understanding that trust and effective communication are central to driving equitable cancer care, Dr. Wilson and her team revamped the way Howard physicians interacted with their patients. By changing the dynamics so that conversations began with a “life check” (in lieu of a staid laundry list of questions from the provider), patients’ overall satisfaction and ratings of their healthcare providers’ trustworthiness went through the roof.

Increasing Diversity in Clinical Trials

Conversations on addressing disparities in breast cancer continued in the session, “Health Equity in Translational Research Studies,” which focused on increasing diversity in clinical trials.

The six talks were packed with actionable takeaways on how to increase awareness of clinical trials through community engagement (such as connecting with local leaders, church groups, and local organizations to help drive trial enrollment). All of the session’s speakers emphasized that effective community engagement requires established, ongoing partnerships driven by local priorities.

Speakers also underscored that awareness alone will not boost participation if other structural barriers are not addressed. Among the roadblocks highlighted: trial inclusion/exclusion criteria that lack a scientific rationale for leaving out people with common comorbid conditions; a lack of culturally competent communications from providers; trust in physicians; transportation to participate in the trial; and financial toxicity.

These highlights only scratch the surface of the profound discussions and important research that were shared at SABCS in December. BCRF is proud to support investigators that contribute to such a thriving research community, and we look forward to results that build upon the findings from this program throughout the year ahead.

More from BCRF’s coverage of SABCS 2021: