Precision medicine requires an end-to-end learning health care system, wherein the treatment decisions for patients are powered by the prior experiences of similar patients. Oncology is currently leading the way in precision medicine because the factors that fuel cancer initiation, progression, and recurrence—the genomic and other molecular characteristics of patients and their tumors—are routinely collected at scale. A major challenge to realizing the promise of precision medicine is that no single institution is able to sequence and treat sufficient numbers of patients to improve clinical decision-making independently, which is why the AACR Project GENIE (Genomics Evidence Neoplasia Information Exchange) registry was established.
AACR Project GENIE is an international pan-cancer registry of real-world data assembled through data sharing among 19 leading international cancer centers. The registry pools clinical sequencing data from participating cancer centers to create an evidence base that is available to everyone. The consortium and its activities are driven by openness, transparency, and inclusion, ensuring that the project output remains accessible to the global cancer research community for the benefit of all patients.
In November 2020, AACR Project GENIE marked the fifth anniversary of its public launch. The project has made extraordinary progress over the past five years, including several milestones in 2020:
As the year ended, the Project GENIE team prepared for its ninth release in January 2021, which will increase the size of the registry to more than 100,000 samples.
Chaired by Jonathan D. Licht, MD, the AACR Hematologic Malignancies Task Force was formed to guide the AACR’s programs and initiatives dedicated to blood-based cancers. In 2020, the task force worked to expand the AACR's hematologic malignancy programs. Its members made recommendations on blood-based cancer sessions to the Annual Meeting program committee, and they laid the groundwork for future AACR conferences on acute myeloid leukemia/myelodysplastic syndrome and pediatric hematologic malignancies. The programs and initiatives launched by the task force have generated great interest among the hematological malignancies research community, as more than 3,700 new members with a focus on blood-based cancers have joined the AACR in the last two years.
Under the leadership of chair Massimo F. Loda, MD, the AACR Pathology Task Force is charged with helping the AACR understand the needs of current pathologists, increasing the visibility of pathology-focused research, integrating pathology researchers into AACR activities, and developing the next generation of pathologists. In 2020, the task force laid the groundwork for future scientific programs focused on pathology. Its members provided recommendations on pathology sessions to the program committees of the 2020 and 2021 AACR Annual Meetings—including the development of an educational session at the virtual meeting, “The Evolving Role of the Pathologist in Cancer Research.” The session highlighted emerging digital imaging technologies and computational tools, including artificial intelligence, which pathologists are utilizing to improve both clinical practice and cancer research. The task force built upon the topics of that session while supporting the development of a new AACR special conference, “Artificial Intelligence, Diagnosis, and Imaging,” which will take place in January 2021.
Held in March 2020, this joint workshop between the AACR and the Society for Immunotherapy of Cancer (SITC) was chaired by SITC Past President Lisa H. Butterfield, PhD, AACR Past President Elizabeth M. Jaffee, MD, FAACR, and Arlene H. Sharpe, MD, PhD, FAACR. It convened expert scientists and clinicians to address cancer immunotherapy toxicities and advance our understanding of the science behind these toxicities. SITC and the AACR agreed to publish a joint white paper to codify the conclusions and recommendations of the workshop and to provide a blueprint for future collaborations.
Despite the challenges of the pandemic, the AACR found ways to inspire high school and undergraduate students who are considering careers in cancer research. AACR staff supported high school science fairs in and around the AACR’s headquarters city of Philadelphia, awarding prizes to six students who presented meritorious projects. In addition, although the termination of the in-person Annual Meeting curtailed the undergraduate program, the committee still presented 21 undergraduate students with AACR Undergraduate Scholar Awards for participating in the virtual AACR Annual Meeting.
The AACR was reviewed by the Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education (ACCME®) and awarded Accreditation with Commendation for six years as a provider of continuing medical education (CME) for physicians (through March 2024). The AACR offered CME credit at 15 different meetings in 2020, including six special conferences, four joint conferences, one joint providership meeting, one joint providership regularly scheduled series, and the AACR Virtual Annual Meeting II. AACR journals provided another educational resource, offering credit to investigators for reviewing manuscripts. New this year was an on-demand activity collaboration called the FDA-AACR Project Livin’ Label. A total of 3,197 researchers and clinicians claimed CME credit from the AACR in 2020, and an additional 203 physicians obtained Medical Knowledge Maintenance of Certification (MOC) points through the American Board of Internal Medicine’s (ABIM) MOC program.
A critical example of these innovation-focused programs was the AACR Conference, “Advancing Precision Medicine Drug Development: Incorporation of Real-World Data and Other Novel Strategies.” Held in January, this first AACR meeting of 2020 presented a comprehensive vision of the state of the art in precision medicine—including traditional topics such as trial design, diagnostics, and drug development; technology topics such as real-time patient monitoring, electronic health records, and machine learning; and regulatory and financial considerations. Under the leadership of cochairs David M. Hyman, MD, Elaine R. Mardis, PhD, FAACR, Lillian L. Siu, MD, and Eliezer M. Van Allen, MD, the meeting brought together scientists and clinicians with leaders from the insurance, finance, and technology sectors to explore how advances in biomedical research, technology, the interrogation of real-world data, and health care delivery could impact precision medicine and patient care.