14th Annual BIDMC Cancer Center Symposium, 2021

BIDMC Communications mediarelations@bidmc.harvard.edu

NOVEMBER 05, 2021

A virtual webinar for the second year running, more than 350 attendants logged in to participate in this year's Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) Cancer Center Symposium. The 14th annual event was organized and hosted by Frank Slack, PhD, Director of BIDMC's Cancer Research Institute and Director of the Harvard Medical School Initiative for RNA Medicine at BIDMC; David Avigan, MD, Chief of the Division of Hematology & Hematologic Malignancies at BIDMC, and David McDermott, MD, Chief of Medical Oncology at BIDMC.

“Each year our symposium focuses on the most updated research, and in that regard, 2021 has been a stellar year despite the pandemic,” said Slack in his welcoming remarks. “In fact, our researchers at BIDMC have published 138 papers just since beginning of 2021. I promise you an exciting day of science.”

“The revolution that we are currently experiencing in our understanding of cancer biology has directly translated to highly effective therapies that impact the lives of our patients, and BIDMC has been a leader in the critical field of immuno-oncology and personalized therapies,” said Avigan. “We are blessed with an outstanding group of speakers today whose work has made fundamental contributions to defining cancer biology, the complex interactions between malignancy and immunity and its translation to novel therapies.”

In a pre-recorded video message, Kim Janey, Mayor of Boston, thanked the symposium attendees for their dedication to fighting cancer. Cancer remains a leading cause of death in Boston and in the nation, Janey said, adding that Black and indigenous people experience disproportionately high mortality from the disease and the shortest survival times among patients. These disparities have narrowed since 1990, she said, but remain unacceptable, and are proof that the work is not done.

Picking up Janey’s theme, Timothy R. Rebbeck, PhD, the Vincent L. Gregory Professor of Cancer Prevention at Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute (DFCI), discussed disparities in cancer and their causes as he kicked off the morning session covering novel diagnostics and therapeutics for cancer. Disparities exist at all phases of cancer, from incidence to screening to treatment to outcomes, he said, and arise from both genetic and cultural factors such as structural racism. Using prostate cancer as an example, Rebbeck discussed population-level data showing that men of Asian descent are at lower relative risk of developing the disease than men of European descent, who are at lower relative risk than men of African descent. However, social influences on screening and access to care and treatment have more to do with outcomes and mortality, he said, noting that racially-correlated disparities seem to disappear among men treated in the U.S. Veteran Affairs healthcare system.

BIDMC’s Steve Balk MD, PhD, of the Division of Hematology-Oncology and a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, presented on advances in androgen deprivation therapy (ADT) that lower levels of the male hormone testosterone to stop progression of prostate cancer. The 70-year-old strategy remains effective, but the benefit is temporary. After providing some new insight into approaches that may make ADT more effective, Balk added that he and colleagues recently reported that about a quarter of localized prostate cancers -- long thought to respond poorly to immunotherapies -- demonstrate immunologic traits that make them susceptible to the leading-edge treatment.

Rounding out the morning session, Victor Velculescu, MD, PhD, of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, spoke on the early detection of cancer using non-invasive liquid biopsies and Dafna Bar-Sagi, PhD, of NYU Langone Health discussed how exercise can mediate the immune context of pancreatic cancer.

In the afternoon, Douglas Lowy, MD, Principal Deputy Director of the National Cancer Institute (NCI), hosted a session on career development for young investigators with a focus on opportunities at the NCI, followed by the day’s third and final session, featuring the latest research in novel immunotherapies for the treatment of myeloma, bladder cancer and more. Presenters included Vicki Boussiotis, MD, PhD, Professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School; Katy Rezvani, MD, PhD, of the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center; Nikhil Munshi, MD, of DFCI and Phil Greenberg, MD, of Fred Hutchinson.

The day’s final speaker, Joaquim Bellmunt, MD, PhD, Professor of Medicine in BIDMC’s Division of Hematology-Oncology and Harvard Medical School, presented key clinical trial findings in immunotherapy and targeted agents that have led to a new treatment landscape in urothelial cancer. “These findings are good news for our patients, because these strategies weren’t available a year and a half, two years ago.”

"Collaboration and innovation are hallmarks of the culture at BIDMC, and our Cancer Center gives us countless examples of what that kind of partnership can produce," said Peter J. Healy, President of BIDMC. “As we celebrate the scientific breakthroughs of the past year, I hope today inspires even more discoveries as we work together to eradicate cancer.”

About Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center

Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center is a patient care, teaching and research affiliate of Harvard Medical School and consistently ranks as a national leader among independent hospitals in National Institutes of Health funding. BIDMC is the official hospital of the Boston Red Sox.

Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center is a part of Beth Israel Lahey Health, a health care system that brings together academic medical centers and teaching hospitals, community and specialty hospitals, more than 4,800 physicians and 36,000 employees in a shared mission to expand access to great care and advance the science and practice of medicine through groundbreaking research and education.