By Peter Duncan
Director, Marketing and Business Development Clinical Diagnostics
June 8, 2010
Dr. Martin Baatz of Definiens takes in a 3D movie about Erbitux mechanism of action
BOSTON – I just returned from ASCO 2010 in Chicago after spending 4 days there. I was there during the exhibitor setup and for the entire conference. The following are thoughts from the perspective of a enabling technology provider focused on image analysis of digital pathology and non-invasive images (not a drug developer):
1. While there were many plenary talks and sessions dedicated to the discussion of personalized medicine, imaging, biomarkers etc. as key aspects of drug development, the traffic at most of the technology providers’ booths that can actually help enable this was light. This can only be attributed to the fact that the average ASCO attendee is a treating oncologist and seems to be relatively disengaged from diagnostic development and / or translational research. This is tragic, because the future of drug development for targeted therapies will absolutely depend on accurate companion diagnostics.
While there are large numbers of oncologists that are active in the study, validation, and implementation of diagnostics, it would help progress towards treating cancer if many more oncologists were engaged in this area on behalf of their patients. This would cause pharma to become more active in diagnostic / drug co-development to meet this demand. I thought ASCO could have done a better job at facilitating interaction between ASCO attendees and companies like Definiens who have a major contribution to play with respect to the development of more accurate diagnostics; the understanding of underlying cancer biology; and thus, the development of more effective cancer therapies.
2. Dr. Martin Baatz of Definiens and I took a long stroll around the exhibit hall and ran into a sales rep from a leading pharmaceutical company. The sales rep was exceedingly proud of a new drug that the company had released, with their final parting comment, “No surprises so far!” Both Martin and I found this rather amusing, that the good news is that there is no bad news!
3. The third major observation that was made was that pharmaceutical companies spend massive amounts of money with respect to marketing and state of the art exhibit booths (and those cool TV adverts with all of the disclaimers); essentially taking a commodity-based approach to their products which took years, billions of dollars, and cutting edge science to develop. From the giveaways; to mini cafe’s within the exhibit booths; to the models – it was stunning that the main goal for pharma companies at ASCO was to “cater” (literally) to the emotion of the oncologist / attendee vs. promoting the science behind these drugs. This statement seems a bit over reaching, because there were actually plenty of presentations and material that did get into the scientific aspects of drugs. But from my point of view, this information got buried in all of the glitz and ASCO looked like a competition of who had the coolest and biggest exhibit booth, vs. a competition of who actually has the best drugs.
What I would like to see at future ASCOs is the opportunity for companies such as Definiens to be able to interact with drug developers to discuss possible areas of synergy, as well as for more oncologists to actively engage themselves in how diagnostics can enable them to be more effective in the treatment of their patients. At the end of the day, it is really about how people get together to work on this problem, and conferences like ASCO are in the perfect position to facilitate this.