ESMO 2020 Congress: our 7 highlights from the European Society For Medical Oncology

Published on 05 November 2020 Read 25 min

Bringing together key oncology specialists from across the globe, the ESMO 2020 virtual congress included several late-breaking results and promising findings. Considering the increased worldwide incidence of COVID-19, the ESMO 2020 also featured a dedicated COVID-19 and cancer thematic, encouraging specialists to reflect on the impact of the pandemic in cancer prognosis. Alcimed guides you through our top 7 highlights from the ESMO 2020 congress based on their significance, novelty and impact to the oncology field.

COVID-19 and oncology: an impact on cancer care

  1. The impact of COVID-19 in cancer prognosis and patients’ care

The COVID-19 outbreak placed exceptional pressures on healthcare systems worldwide, revealing several weaknesses in those systems. A study involving oncology centers in 18 countries revealed an overall reduction in the clinical activity during the pandemic (60.9%). The main concerns reported include under-treatment, reduction in the number of clinical trials and delayed diagnosis of new cancer cases. Another study involving 356 cancer centers reported challenges in providing care during the pandemic due to cases of COVID-19 among patients and staff, combined with shortage of personal protective equipment and medicines. The situation also urged centers to implement virtual clinics and ship medication to patients so that treatment could proceed.

>> Interested in improving patients’ quality of life in cancer care? Register to our upcoming webinar “Quality of Life in cancer care – do we care enough?”

  1. The effect of COVID-19 in oncologists’ wellbeing

According to online surveys undertaken by the ESMO Resilience Task Force, the pandemic produced a major impact on the wellbeing, burnout and job performance of oncology professionals. An appropriate allocation of resources and the development of specific recommendations to guide oncologists in providing cancer care in unparalleled circumstances is crucial to reduce burnout and deliver the best possible treatment in time.

Cancer Immunotherapy: an ESMO 2020 hot topic targeting several types of cancer

  1. Immunotherapy in patients with gastric or esophageal cancers who currently have poor survival rates

A randomized phase III trial (CheckMate-649) assessed the efficacy of nivolumab plus chemotherapy versus chemotherapy only as a first-line treatment for patients with advanced gastric cancer, gastro-esophageal junction cancer, or esophageal cancer (5). Results show that the combinatorial approach improved overall survival and progression-free survival in patients. The addition of nivolumab to chemotherapy will likely become the standard of care for first-line treatment.

  1. Improved health-related quality of life after immunotherapy in microsatellite instability-high (MSI-H) and/or deficient mismatch repair (dMMR) metastatic colorectal cancer (mCRC)

In a phase III study (KEYNOTE-177) by Merck Sharp & Dohme Corp., patients with confirmed MSI-H/dMMR mCRC were randomly assigned 1:1 to receive pembrolizumab (n=141) or chemotherapy (mFOLFOX6 or FOLFIRI) (n=131). Pembrolizumab improved progression-free survival compared to standard of care chemotherapy (7), translating into clinically meaningful improvements in health-related quality of life.

  1. Promising preliminary data for two novel immunotherapy targets (MK-4830 & PRS-343)

Preliminary efficacy data for the phase I trial of MK-4830, a first-in-class human immunoglobulin-like transcript 4 (ILT4)-targeting monoclonal antibody, provided evidence that ILT4 inhibition can potentially affect myeloid cells in a clinically relevant manner.

Additionally, a phase I study of PRS-343 reported (9) that the combination of human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2) inhibition with immune response regulation offered by PRS-343 is a valuable alternative therapeutic strategy to trastuzumab in patients with HER2+ solid tumors.

Metastatic Kidney Cancer at ESMO 2020

Mounting evidences show the advantages of combination therapy over single drugs.

  1. New first-line treatment option for metastatic kidney cancer, according to results of phase III CheckMate-9ER study

Two drugs used as monotherapies in the second line, nivolumab and cabozantinib, were combined and used as a first-line treatment against standard of care, sunitinib (10). The combination was superior to sunitinib for progression-free survival, overall survival, and response rate.

Breast Cancer at ESMO 2020

Combinatory approach with atezolizumab and chemotherapy was another highlight at the ESMO 2020.

  1. Encouraging long-term survival benefits with atezolizumab plus nab-paclitaxel in metastatic triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC)

Similar to a study presented at the ASCO 2020, Roche reported on IMpassion131, a phase III study designed to evaluate the efficacy and safety of the combinatorial treatment with atezolizumab (anti-PD-L1 antibody) and nab-paclitaxel versus placebo and nab-paclitaxel. The findings show for the first-time long-term benefits of the combination therapy, resulting in a clinically relevant extension of 7.5 months in the final overall survival with atezolizumab–nab-paclitaxel.

Overall, ESMO 2020 reported breakthrough developments in cancer research and therapeutic interventions. The event shed light on the promising research field of cancer immunotherapy and the potential combination with chemotherapy to increase treatment efficacy. Importantly, immunotherapy translated into meaningful improvements in health-related quality of life, a topic frequently neglected. At Alcimed, we have recently reflected on the importance of this matter in cancer care in a position paper highlighting possible ways to improve patients’ quality of life in oncology and beyond. >> Download our position paper.

Even in the face of a pandemic, worldwide leading oncology experts joined efforts to fight cancer and improve patients’ care, sharing the latest advances in the field. We look forward to the upcoming findings! Join us for our upcoming webinar on Quality of Life in cancer care and let’s discuss it with professionals from the pharmaceutical industry, an international patients’ association and a post-mastectomy service provider for women! >> Register to our upcoming webinar.

About the authors:

Sara, Consultant in Alcimed’s Healthcare team in Germany
Volker, Great Explorer Oncology in Alcimed’s Healthcare team in Germany

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