AACR Annual Report 2020

Focused on Our Mission

During the past year, the AACR—and the entire cancer community—were challenged by the COVID-19 pandemic. Through resilience, innovation, and leadership, the AACR met the challenge and continued to drive advances in cancer science and medicine. With the approval and initial distribution of two coronavirus vaccines in December 2020, and another that is now available to the public, there is great hope that the world will move past the pandemic sometime in 2021. In the new year, the AACR will continue to address the immediate threat of COVID-19 while also pursuing its mission to prevent and cure all cancers.

Exploring the Intersection between COVID-19 and Cancer

The AACR and its COVID-19 and Cancer Task Force explored several critical frontiers in 2020, including:

  • The impact of the pandemic on cancer screening, treatment, and the continuity of care.
  • The effects of COVID-19 on cancer survivorship.
  • Health inequities and disparities pertaining to both COVID-19 and cancer.
  • The biological intersection between COVID-19 and cancer, and how cancer science and cancer treatments can be repurposed to understand and treat COVID-19.

In February 2021, the AACR presented cutting-edge research focused on these questions at its second virtual conference on COVID-19 and Cancer. Chaired by task force member E. John Wherry, PhD, the conference convened experts from across the spectrum of infectious disease research and cancer research to ensure that progress will continue to be made against both COVID-19 and cancer. More details about the impact of this exciting meeting will be presented the AACR’s 2021 Annual Report.

Virtual Annual Meeting 2021

Continuing to prioritize the health and safety of Annual Meeting attendees and the patients and communities they serve, the AACR Board of Directors decided in November 2020 to convene the AACR Annual Meeting 2021 in a virtual format. The meeting program will be presented over two one-week periods:

  • Week 1: April 10–15, 2021. The first week of the meeting will feature the opening ceremony, plenary sessions, major scientific sessions, select science policy sessions, and award lectures. All proffered abstracts that are accepted for presentation—including clinical trials and late-breaking abstracts—will be presented in plenary sessions, minisymposia, and ePoster sessions during this week.
  • Week 2: May 17–21, 2021. The second week will feature education sessions, methods workshops, meet the expert sessions, regulatory science and science policy sessions, additional award lectures, and professional advancement sessions.

Driving Progress against Pediatric Cancer

In 2020, the AACR took steps to support the pace of progress in pediatric cancer research by increasing the frequency of its renowned special conferences on these cancers from biennial to annual. In 2021, the AACR will further accelerate the pace of that progress by convening a Future of Cancer Research Innovation Summit on Pediatric, Adolescent, and Young Adult Oncology. The Summit will be chaired by AACR Past President Elaine R. Mardis, PhD, FAACR, and participants will explore the current and future state of the field and make recommendations to address the most pressing challenges in the field.

Survivor and Patient Advocacy: Virtual Patient Advocate Forum Series

On October 1, the AACR Survivor and Patient Advocacy program hosted a virtual forum for cancer survivors and patient advocates featuring new knowledge in the emerging area of COVID-19 and cancer. Building upon the success of this timely session, the AACR will host a series of quarterly forums in 2021 that will inform and empower patients with cancer, patient advocates, and their families and loved ones. During its first full year, the series will address precision oncology, the promise of immuno-oncology, big data and machine learning in oncology, and how evolution shapes cancer and its progression.

New AACR Task Force on Eliminating Racial Inequities in Cancer Research

To implement the recommendations made during the Panel Discussion on Racism and Racial Inequities in Cancer Research at the AACR Annual Meeting, and to further support the work of the AACR Minorities in Cancer Research Council, President Antoni Ribas established this task force to focus specifically on eliminating racial inequities in cancer research. The task force will be chaired by John M. Carethers, MD, MACP, and Melissa B. Davis, PhD, and it will convene its first meeting in the spring of 2021.

New Funding Models

The AACR advances progress against cancer by funding groundbreaking basic, translational, and clinical research conducted by promising investigators at all career levels. To expand its portfolio of funding opportunities and continue to invest in innovation for the benefit of cancer patients, the AACR will be exploring new funding models in 2021 and beyond.

AACR Scientific Publishing: A New Journal Launch

For more than century, AACR scientific journals have served the cancer research community by providing highly respected publication outlets for significant advances in basic, translational, clinical, and epidemiological cancer research. Recently, the AACR launched its ninth journal, Blood Cancer Discovery, to strengthen its emphasis in this scientific area. The AACR will continue to adapt to the needs of researchers and their funders, and in 2021 will launch a new, broad-based, open access journal that will publish meritorious research in every aspect of the field.

Diversifying the Cancer Workforce through Research Funding

Since 1993, the AACR grants program has driven progress against cancer by supporting promising investigators in all scientific areas and at all career stages. In 2021, several AACR grants will foster the development of a cancer workforce that is as diverse as the patients it serves. Two new grant programs—The Breast Cancer Research Foundation-AACR Career Development Awards to Promote Diversity and Inclusion, and the Lustgarten Foundation-AACR Career Development Awards for Pancreatic Cancer Research, in Honor of Rep. John Robert Lewis—will support breast and pancreatic cancer investigators, respectively, from diverse backgrounds that are underrepresented in cancer science-related research. In addition, the Lustgarten Foundation-AACR Career Development Awards for Pancreatic Cancer Research in Honor of Ruth Bader Ginsburg will support female scientists engaged in pancreatic cancer research.

Assessing the Health Risks of Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems

In 2015, the AACR partnered with the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) to publish a landmark joint policy statement on Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems (ENDS). The statement noted that while some believe ENDS may be less harmful than combustible tobacco, they may also be harmful, particularly to youth, and increase the likelihood that nonsmokers or former smokers will use combustible tobacco products. The statement recommended additional research on devices such as e-cigarettes; regulation of ENDS at federal, state, and local levels; requirements that manufacturers register their products with the FDA; and prohibitions on marketing and sales directed at youths. In 2021, the AACR will release an updated policy statement on this critical public health issue.

Expanding Leadership in Hematological Malignancies

In June 2021, the Foundation for the Institute on Oncology Research (IOR) will present the 16th International Conference on Malignant Lymphoma (ICML) in a virtual format. Continuing the collaboration established with the conference organizers in 2018, the AACR will cooperate with IOR on the development of the program for this landmark meeting. The AACR's expanding focus on blood cancers in 2021 is also reflected in the launch of three additional virtual conferences on myeloma (April), clonal hematopoiesis (August), and precision medicine strategies to improve lymphoma therapy and clinical trials (September).

The AACR will also recognize scientific excellence in the field of blood cancers by establishing the AACR Award for Outstanding Achievement in Blood Cancer Research. The award will honor an individual who has made significant scientific contribution(s) to basic, translational, and/or clinical research related to blood cancer or associated disorders such as myelodysplastic syndrome or myeloproliferative neoplasms. Nominations will be accepted in 2021, and the first award will be presented at the AACR Annual Meeting 2022.