Chemotherapy Foundation Symposium Overview

Oncology & Biotech News Editors
Published: Thursday, Jun 24, 2010
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Traditional definitions of successful therapy rapidly redefined as new molecular-based therapies emerge

This year’s Chemotherapy Foundation Symposium was held in New York City in November and was co-sponsored by the Mount Sinai School of Medicine. The meeting was titled, “Innovative Cancer Therapy for Tomorrow” and brought together experts to discuss advances in chemotherapy. The speed and sophistication of emerging therapies in the treatment of many cancers is changing the way oncologists and patients alike view the disease.

“We’re getting access to a large number of molecular-targeted medications as we begin to better understand the process of how healthy cells are transformed into malignant ones and what specific molecular pathways are altered,” states Dr. Edward P. Ambinder, Associate Chairman of the New York–based Chemotherapy Foundation and Clinical Professor of Medicine at New York’s Mount Sinai School of Medicine. Dr. Ambinder served as Program Director of the Foundation’s Twenty-Fifth Annual Chemotherapy Symposium held in New York late last year. “We’re seeing molecular-targeted drugs capable of changing molecular pathways that are abnormally overactive or underactive in cancer cells. With certain tumors we are now fortunate to have drugs that can effectively control the cancer with very tolerable side effects.” Some innovations have also expanded to the treatment of pediatric patients, a topic which, for the first time, warranted its own session at this year’s Conference.

Definition of Successful Cancer Treatment Redefined, but Often Costly

The age of highly targeted cancer treatments has also brought with it new definitions of what is considered a successful clinical outcome. “The standard by which we measured the success of a therapy was in overall survival rates, but now we’re looking at progression-free survival and improvement in patient quality of life,” Dr. Ambinder says.

The monetary cost of these new, lifesaving cancer treatments is already affecting treatment decisions for both patients and oncologists. “A molecular- targeted drug, combined with different types of chemotherapy, often drives the cost of some drug regimens to upwards of $100,000 to $175,000 per year,” Dr. Ambinder says. Insurers, he says, are already shifting these expenses in the form of higher copays for patients and lower reimbursement rates for oncologists. “Even large cancer centers have suffered because of the change in drug reimbursement rates, and those of us in smaller practices are beginning to find it impossible to purchase these drugs for our patients at a price where we do not lose money.” Major industry groups representing the interests of oncology professionals, such as the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) and the American Society of Hematology (ASH) will be actively addressing the reimbursement problem throughout the coming year, he says.

Another dilemma oncologists face in this new age of oncology drug discovery is, ironically, the abundance of treatment options available now and in the near future—new treatment options which were once limited or nonexistent for many cancer patients. “There are probably 700 different drugs overall in the pharmaceutical pipeline now,” Dr. Ambinder says, “and about 60% of these are cancer drugs. How are we going to evaluate all of these new drugs, not only in terms of the different cancers they target, but in terms of combining them with older treatments. It’s going to be challenging for community oncologists to keep up with all of these advancements, and we hope annual events like our Symposium can help them do that.”


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