The Hematologist

January-February 2018, Volume 15, Issue 1

Hematology's Red Carpet for Innovation

Alexis Thompson, MD, MPH Sarah and A. Watson Armour Chair in Childhood Cancer and Blood Disorders, Hematology Section Head; Professor of Pediatrics
Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago; Feinberg School of Medicine, Northwestern University, Chicago, IL

Published on: January 24, 2018

As we begin 2018, I want to again offer my heartfelt thanks to Dr. Kenneth Anderson for his outstanding leadership as ASH president in the past year. He continues to be a true champion for hematology and oversaw tremendous evolution of many ASH initiatives. As the Society and the field at large continue a remarkable upward trajectory, I look forward to serving as president in the next year and to hearing from you as we continue to build on a foundation of breakthroughs and to improve the lives of our patients each day.

Last month at the 59th ASH Annual Meeting in Atlanta, well ahead of the Hollywood awards season, ASH rolled out the red carpet for outstanding scientific discoveries and medical advances. Some were highlighted in the Plenary Scientific Session, presented as a Late-Breaking Abstract, or summarized by Scientific Committee Co-Chairs Scott Armstrong and Andy Weyrich during the Best of ASH. Another place where the excitement about noteworthy abstracts was nearly palpable was the ASH press room. In 2017, roughly 250 members of the worldwide media covered the broad swath of research being presented. Twenty studies were presented in press briefings on some of the most dynamic topics, from targeted therapies to CAR T cells, resulting in more than 1,500 articles and on-air segments, reaching a potential audience of more than 2 billion people, and furthering the Society’s objective of raising the profile of hematology. In this Year’s Best issue of The Hematologist, you will read more about several such breakthroughs, many of which garnered major media coverage in Atlanta. And while it would be impossible to encapsulate all the amazing work and dedication on display at the 2017 meeting, here is a small sample of the science presented that also made waves in the mainstream press.

It was a huge year for CAR T cell therapies, and the progress made in B cell malignancies was a media standout. With promising results from the JULIET study of patients with non-Hodgkin lymphoma, CTL019 (tisagenlecleucel) offers a novel therapy targeting CD19-expressing B cells; the ZUMA-1 trial showed the early clinical benefit of ciloleucel in patients with refractory aggressive non-Hodgkin lymphoma; and the anti-BCMA CAR T demonstrated encouraging results in heavily pretreated patients with multiple myeloma. Additionally, several breakthroughs in treatment strategies for patients with sickle cell disease (SCD) earned the media spotlight: Treatment with crizanlizumab delayed the onset of SCD-related pain episodes, as demonstrated by the phase II SUSTAIN trial, while phase III data showed the promise of l-glutamine to greatly reduce pain episodes. Meanwhile, gene-therapy studies in patients with hemophilia marked another area where both the lay press and the scientific community were equally enthusiastic: Phase I/II data on AAV5-FVIII and AAV5-FIX gene therapies provide some early, but still exciting, promise in this disease category. Lastly, phase I/II data from a clinical gene therapy study prompted great enthusiasm for treatment of patients with X-linked severe combined immunodeficiency. The researchers used a modified lentiviral vector along with reduced exposure busulfan, which was not only well tolerated by subjects, but also resulted in rapid T cell reconstitution in a majority of them.

The attention garnered by scientific presentations at the ASH annual meeting, as well as articles published in Blood and Blood Advances, is a testament to the prominence that the Society continues to enjoy. This coverage matters — just as your work and that of your colleagues matters — because it places hematology at the forefront of cutting-edge science and innovations in care. While a few hundred words on a newspaper website can speak volumes, your contributions and dedication ensure that ASH remains synonymous with high impact and high quality. I am honored to serve you and the Society as we focus a powerful lens on 2018 and beyond.

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