A capitol idea -- AACR 2013 conference preview
March 2013
by Jeffrey Bouley  |  Email the author


AACR Annual Meeting 2013
American Association for Cancer Research (AACR)
Annual Meeting 2013
April 6-10, 2013
Walter E. Washington Convention Center
Washington, D.C.

WASHINGTON, D.C.—Like any annual meeting of a major research-oriented organization with many thousands of members across the world, educational sessions and poster presentations are a big draw, along with the chance to network with peers. For this year's annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR), though, it's also a chance to raise thousands of voices in support of research funding.  
"One of the most notable aspects of this year's meeting is the addition of the Rally for Medical Research. We'll be taking time out from the meeting to step out for a couple hours and rally with other organizations and stakeholders for support of research in all kinds of indications," explains Dr. Frank McCormick, AACR's president. "We're joining forces with multiple groups representing many different diseases and advocacy groups to make a loud and impassioned statement that we need to invest more in medical research across the board. We'll be using this opportunity to be in D.C. to take that message to the streets."  
The Rally for Medical Research will be held on Monday, April 8, at 11 a.m. in and around the steps of the Carnegie Library in Washington, D.C., where it is expected that thousands of advocates, survivors, researchers, clinicians, business leaders and members of the general public will journey to, as AACR notes on its website, "speak with one voice" and "unite millions of Americans across the country to call on our nation's policymakers to make life-saving medical research funding a national priority. This unified call to action will raise awareness about the critical need for a sustained investment in the National Institutes of Health, a vital federal agency that improves health, spurs more progress, inspires more hope and saves more lives."  U.S. Capitol Building
Because the AACR is an active participant in this unified call to action, the schedule of the AACR Annual Meeting 2013 had to be revised slightly, most notably resulting in a change to exhibit hours, which are now 12:30 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. on Sunday and Monday, 8 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. on Tuesday and 8 a.m. to noon on Wednesday.  
Of course, as big as that rally involvement is, it represents only a tiny part of the time for the AACR Annual Meeting 2013, which will be held April 6-10 at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, D.C., under the theme "Personalizing Cancer Care Through Discovery Science."  
"One of the things we're covering this year a lot is the personalized cancer medicine area. There is also a lot of focus on genomics in this year's program, for things like drug discovery, personalized medicine, tumor heterogenicity and more," says Dr. José Baselga, the AACR Annual Meeting 2013 program chairperson. "There will be a lot of clinical trials presented—including first-in-human trials—with some of the new compounds and new targets in Phase II and Phase III. AACR is becoming the place where a lot of the cutting-edge research gets unveiled. We're also going to see a lot of coverage of early-stage trials with interesting targets and compounds. A lot of these trials will be practice-changing, I believe."  
In terms of the content of the meeting, Baselga is a world leader in clinical research, notes McCormick, "so there is at least a slight increase in emphasis this year on early-stage clinical trials and clinical research. Also, we have people from both the biotech world and big pharma on our organizing committees and there is a huge interest in how new target agents are going into clinical now, so there has been a lot of encouragement to cover a lot of early-stage and clinical trials this year."  
Baselga says that one topic that will get hit quite heavily this year is the personalized cancer medicine area.  
Generally, the meeting is quite comprehensive in bringing people up to date with prevention, the molecular basis of cancer and new treatments, among other topics, McCormick notes, but he adds that areas of particular popularity right now are immunotherapy and epigenetics.  
"Another area that's gaining a lot of traction is our special track on regulatory affairs, which I think people in drug development particularly appreciate," McCormick adds. "The track was very well-attended last year, and we try to build on those kinds of successes, so we have that track again this year and expect it to be a popular one."
McCormick also notes that the AACR is looking at social networking and how to make that more effective for the annual meeting and, more broadly, for cancer research.
"It will be a bit of an experiment and a way of adding another element to AACR. We're looking to make the meeting a richer and better experience," he says. "It's going to be a surprise exactly how we implement that social networking for the meeting, but I will say that one thing I would like to see is social media being able to help put people together in research and help you find out who else is working in your area of expertise or interest." In that vein, McCormick says, attendees should look for AACR's social networking experiment to make the meeting more effective as a communication tool in addition to the educational and exhibit aspects.  
Walter E. Washington Convention CenterSo far, registration for the 2013 meeting is up significantly compared to last year, McCormick reports. Although the numbers are still coming in, he says it looks like this meeting will be a huge success, adding, "It helps to be in a great venue like D.C., but we're also building off momentum from the past. Each meeting is better than the last as we learn more what people want and respond to that."  
Baselga agrees, adding that based on the number of people who have already registered, it will probably be AACR's largest meeting ever—close to 18,000 people attending most likely and well over 6,000 abstracts.  
"If you need to have the pulse of the field in terms of cancer drug discovery, this is the place to be—this is the place where a lot of clinical compounds are being presented in poster sessions and discussions about new targets, challenges and opportunities," Baselga concludes. "It's the largest meeting for that, and a tremendous opportunity for doing networking when you have so many cancer experts in one place."  
"For many people both overseas and in the U.S., this is the one big meeting of the year that they will attend, and the great advantage of it is that is covers every aspect of cancer research—the latest and greatest developments across the spectrum," McCormick says. "It's really the best opportunity to get a complete download of what's happening in the cancer research world."      

AACR strongly represented in inaugural Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences  
PHILADELPHIA—With AACR President-elect Dr. Charles L. Sawyers among the 11 winners—and nine of the winners being members of the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR)—the AACR on Feb. 22 congratulated the recipients of the first Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences. The award recognizes scientists for their achievements in the life-sciences field and provides them with the opportunity and freedom to continue their important pioneering research into curing disease, with each recipient receiving $3 million toward that end.  
"The AACR extends sincere congratulations to each winner of this award," said Dr. Margaret Foti, CEO of the AACR. "All of these scientists have made remarkable contributions in their fields. Each one undoubtedly has more to offer the scientific community and the public, and this award will ensure that they continue to pursue their cutting-edge research. We are especially proud to see so many AACR members recognized, because their commitment to accelerating research to prevent and cure cancer is invaluable."  
AACR members who received the Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences in addition to Sawyers were Dr. David Botstein of Princeton University; Dr. Lewis C. Cantley of Weill Cornell Medical College and New York-Presbyterian Hospital Cancer Center; Dr. Hans Clevers of the Hubrecht Institute in The Netherlands; Dr. Napoleone Ferrara of the University of California, San Diego; Dr. Titia de Lange of Rockefeller University; Dr. Eric S. Lander of the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard; Dr. Bert Vogelstein of Johns Hopkins University; and Dr. Robert A. Weinberg of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The other two recipients were Dr. Cornelia I. Bargmann of Rockefeller University and Dr. Shinya Yamanaka of the Gladstone Institutes and Kyoto University—who was also a 2012 Nobel Prize recipient.    
Biomarker may ID neuroblastoma sensitive to BET bromodomain inhibitors  
PHILADELPHIA—The AACR noted on Feb. 21 that neuroblastoma, the most common malignant tumor of early childhood, is frequently associated with the presence of MYCN amplification, a genetic biomarker associated with poor prognosis, and that researchers have determined that tumors containing MYCN amplification are sensitive to a new class of drugs, BET bromodomain inhibitors. The results of this preclinical research, funded in part by a Stand Up To Cancer Innovative Research Grant, were published in Cancer Discovery, a journal of the AACR.
"BET bromodomain inhibitors are a class of drugs that many researchers are hopeful may offer a new therapeutic option for treating patients with certain cancers," said Dr. Kimberly Stegmaier, assistant professor of pediatrics in the Department of Hematology/Oncology at Dana-Farber/Children's Hospital Cancer Center in Boston. "The challenge has been identifying biomarkers that can help direct clinical translation of these drugs by pinpointing those patients with the highest likelihood of response."  
To identify genetic biomarkers of responsiveness to BET bromodomain inhibitors, Stegmaier and colleagues screened more than 600 cancer cell lines with known genetic characteristics for sensitivity to a prototypical BET bromodomain inhibitor. Using this high-throughput, cell-based screening process, the researchers found that neuroblastoma cells in which the MYCN gene was amplified were sensitive to BET bromodomain inhibitors.  
To further validate their findings, the researchers tested a BET bromodomain inhibitor, from the laboratory of Dr. James E. Bradner at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, using cultured MYCN-amplified neuroblastoma cell lines and three animal models of MYCN-amplified neuroblastoma. Together, they found that the drug decreased levels of MYCN protein in cultured cells, and that this led to impaired cell growth and cell death. In each animal model, including a mouse model of neuroblastoma that is known to be resistant to many standard therapies, the drug was shown to have anti-tumor effects and to prolong survival.

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