The Chairs of the 2020 World Conference on Lung Cancer, all based in Asia, had originally designed a live program to be hosted in Singapore. The outbreak of COVID-19 forced Drs. Yi-Long Wu, Ross Soo, and Daniel Tan to not only reschedule the live event to a virtual program but to also re-imagine the program. WCLC News met with the Chairs to discuss the conference and volunteer service during a global pandemic.
The global coronavirus pandemic caused not only a rescheduling of educational conferences but a complete reimagining of them. What was that experience like as a WCLC conference chair? How do you think attendees have benefited from the changes?
Dr. Wu: As a WCLC conference chair, I and my co-chairs Drs. Daniel Tan and Ross Soo have been planning this meeting since early 2018. We worked together to select a meeting site and prepare the preliminary scientific program, as well as to nominate and contact potential Track Chairs. Everything changed in early 2020, but we expected the pandemic to pass quickly, so we postponed the meeting in its traditional live format. Our hopes did not become reality, however. It is very difficult to change a live conference to an all-virtual meeting. We delayed the 2020 WCLC conference twice, and finally we decided to begin our virtual offerings in August 2020 by providing a small, select part of the program as a stand-alone conference: the Virtual Presidential Symposium. This conference was very successful. We released the results of three clinical trials that were extremely scientifically relevant and even practice changing. The CheckMate743 trial, presented at this conference, resulted in an October US Food and Drug Administration approval for the trial combination of nivolumab and ipilimumab as first-line treatment for patients with unresectable malignant pleural mesothelioma.
There are huge differences between virtual and live meetings. Because sessions and live Q&As take place in the host country’s time zone, attendees from other countries might be viewing at off hours. We simply could not “be” everywhere at the same time. Another challenge associated with a virtual meeting is the decreased attendee interaction that is so important for academic and scientific meetings. However, you can join sessions in the virtual space with just the click of a button and you can watch session recordings 24 hours after the original presentation, allowing attendees to be both flexible and efficient with their time. In addition, the virtual platform provides a Forum for attendees to chat, live Q&As during sessions, and ample opportunity for discussion on Twitter using @IASLC and #wclc2020 to connect participants.
Dr. Soo: Like other activities cancelled or amended due to COVID-19 in 2020, it was a feeling of initial disbelief and frustration knowing that we would have to reschedule and reimagine the event. However, this feeling was brief as the IASLC expertly managed through the many logistical changes to slim down the program. In addition, holding the Virtual Presidential Symposium in mid-August allowed ground-breaking, practice-changing studies to be presented in timely manner.
Having a compressed program has the advantage of maintaining tight focus on core areas and subject matter important to participants. Furthermore, due to the travel restrictions, no jet lag! The virtual platform allows easy and convenient access to the presentations—all from the comfort of your own laptop or phone. There’s no scramble to find session rooms before the doors close or even to attend the session on the day of its presentation.
Dr. Tan: The pandemic has really highlighted the importance of adapting to emerging data. It has been a test of balancing tradeoffs at different levels with circumstances. A clear understanding of the relative importance and goal/ impact of each activity has been crucial to each decision made by us as meeting co-chairs and by IASLC leadership in general. This thoughtful approach will help prioritize and identify where we, as volunteers with multiple demands on our time, should direct our efforts.
As Conference Chairs, what were your goals for meeting in terms of highlighting specific advances or research areas?
Dr. Wu: Within the past decade, the two areas in NSCLC research that showed major advances were targeted therapies and immunotherapy. The WCLC 2020 program focuses on these two topics, across disease stages. The program features a number of abstract presentations, featured posters, and posters on these topics, as well as several related educational sessions. As conference chair I recommend that you give special attention to the educational session: “Antibody Drug Conjugates, Novel Therapeutics and Cytotoxics,” which will provide overviews of recent advances in this field and the future for NSCLC therapies.
Dr. Tan: We were keen to ensure that abstracts were relevant to a global audience but also cognizant of some of the challenges in Asia regarding disparities in access to healthcare. I am grateful to the faculty for active participation in the meeting, despite not being able to physically stand at the podium in Singapore.
What are the sessions or presentations that you are most looking forward to and why?
Dr. Wu: We have arranged five Plenary sessions (including one opening session). New trends in clinical oncology are a main theme for these sessions. For example, use of big data and artificial intelligence in thoracic oncology, will be discussed during the Plenary session “Innovation to Bridge Lung Cancer Care Tomorrow,” and innovation of clinical trials in the precision medicine and immunotherapy era will be discussed during “A Vision for Clinical Trials in 2020 and Beyond.” Novel approaches in immunotherapy is the focus of “Bench to Beside (Immunology),” and the bigger picture regarding disparities in access to care is at the center of “Making Lung Cancer Care Affordable and Accessible.”
Regarding virtual podium presentations of the most highly rated science, watch the Presidential Symposium. Six potentially practice-changing abstracts were selected on the following topics:
- neoadjuvant immunotherapy treatment and adjuvant chemotherapy in resected NSCLC,
- KRAS mutation
- Second-line treatment for malignant mesothelioma,
- immunotherapy for patients with high PD-L1 expression and advanced NSCLC,
- and lung cancer screening.
Dr. Soo: As Dr. Wu mentioned, the abstracts selected for the Presidential Symposium are all excellent and of high quality. Having said that, I am really excited about the TALENT study being presented in tomorrow’s Presidential Plenary, which focuses on a lung cancer screening program conducted in Taiwan. Although multiple lung cancer screening trials have been previously conducted, the results may not be applicable in East Asians. Thus, the TALENT study would be the first major screening study from East Asia. Furthermore, the effectiveness of low-dose CT screening for lung cancer in never smokers is unknown. TALENT study may provide insight on the benefit of screening in never smokers with certain risk factors.
Dr. Tan: Unrelated to the program, I am excited about the chat functionality on the virtual platform for discussion of presented content. It is not a complete substitute for the hallway discussions at live meetings, but it is a rather convenient way to discuss interesting findings in the moment with colleagues who are half a world away.
As we enter 2021, what are your hopes for the thoracic oncology community?
Dr. Wu: I think that COVID-19 will be a part of our work and lives throughout 2021. The thoracic oncology community must learn how to meet the demands of this virus in a flexible and efficient way. We should develop guidelines for patients and doctors about treatment adaptations and potential consequences. Also, we should learn how to communicate academically and scientifically with each other about these new integrations and alterations via virtual tools.
Dr. Soo: I would like to sincerely thank the IASLC staff and contractors, all of the track chairs and committee members, my co-chairs for overcoming the challenges of an interrupted and disrupted 2020 and for their contributions to WCLC2020, and, finally, to all faculty for agreeing to participate as a speaker. I wish for everyone in the thoracic oncology community and their loved ones a return to normal life (or as close as possible). Whatever field in thoracic cancer we are in, the focus is always to improve patient care, and I am confident that the bar will continue to be raised in the coming year. I look forward to catching up and meeting up with dear friends and colleagues over a nice meal and drinks in the near future but, in the meantime, see you all online during the meeting!
Dr. Tan: Please stay safe and keep a positive outlook. When we eventually emerge from the pandemic, I would love to see us tackle lung cancer with the same sense of urgency as we did for COVID and its related challenges.