2020 ASH Annual Meeting Preview: Conversations With Co-Chairs

Education Program Co-chairs

Siobán Keel, MD, University of Washington Medical Center and the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance
Christopher Flowers, MD, The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center

Scientific Program Co-chairs

Leslie Kean, MD, PhD, Stem Cell Transplant Center, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute
Alisa Wolberg, PhD, UNC Blood Research Center

How are speakers being asked to modify their presentations for a virtual format?

Leslie Kean, MD, PhD: Even in this new format, we are doing everything as closely as possible to the originally planned meeting. We want to have a vibrant, cutting-edge meeting. Obviously, the biggest change will be that a lot of content will be prerecorded instead of presented live.

Siobán B. Keel, MD: As one example, we are uncoupling the session talks from the Q&A discussions that typically follow. Education and Scientific Program session speakers have been asked to record their talks from their homes and offices. Each talk will be about 15 minutes, rather than the 20 to 25 minutes allotted for talks in years past. These prerecorded presentations will be available on demand before the start of the meeting, debuting December 2, and meeting registrants will have access to the virtual platform for a period of time after the meeting. Webcasts will also be available for purchase afterward.

Alisa Wolberg, PhD: Recording the presentations ahead of time does set an earlier deadline than speakers may be accustomed to, but it will help ensure that we are not subject to technical difficulties that might disrupt the viewer experience.

Dr. Keel: Education and Scientific Program speakers have also been asked to prepare for a 45-minute Live Q&A session, which will take place during the meeting dates. This will begin with a short executive summary presentation delivered by the session chair, with slides featuring key data and conclusions from the associated prerecorded talks. This new format guarantees about 30 minutes for discussion – more time than is typically allotted at our in-person annual meetings.

How have your roles as program co-chairs changed as a result of this year’s format?

Dr. Kean: There were some big changes. We had been in conversations with ASH staff as they considered the switch and, once the decision was made, we had a lot of discussions about how to optimize the experience. In some ways, it turned our plan for organizing the meeting on its head. ASH is so good at preplanning everything that, in normal circumstances, everything is on autopilot by this time in the planning cycle. This year, we had to retool and reimagine everything.

Dr. Wolberg: Yes, ASH is terrific about planning in advance. An anticipated schedule starts years in advance of the meeting, all of which proceeded exactly as planned until February, when things changed in the U.S. Immediate changes needed to occur with the meeting format itself and with planning additional content in recognition of COVID-19’s pathology and its strong connections to hematology. We planned sessions much later than we normally would because we are paying attention to activities going on in the field.

“Even in this new format, we are doing everything as closely as possible to the originally planned meeting. We want to have a vibrant, cutting-edge meeting.”

—Leslie Kean, MD, PhD

Dr. Keel: As Education Program Co-chair, along with Christopher Flowers, MD, of MD Anderson Cancer Center, the bulk of my responsibility was to assemble the sessions – propose speakers and select topics with help from my Advisory Panel Members (many thanks to Seth Corey, MD, MPH; Meghan Delaney, DO, MPH; Martina Muckenthaler, PhD; Thomas Ortel, MD, PhD; Ifeyinwa Osunkwo, MD, MPH; and many others who contributed ideas). This was a lot of fun, and also a lot of work.

The Education Program was nearly finalized in January 2020, prior to the declaration of the COVID-19 outbreak as a pandemic, but as ASH decided to take the meeting virtual, co-chairs provided input on how to reformat sessions and assemble some COVID-19–related content.

What are you most looking forward to about the 2020 annual meeting?

Dr. Keel: First, I am excited about the Education Program content. I think the sessions all nicely address clinically relevant and important topics. As just two examples, Lucy Godley, MD, PhD, will chair a session titled “Genetic Testing for Heritable Hematologic Disorders 101.” This session will cover genomic sequencing methodologies for inherited marrow failure and hematologic malignancy predisposition, initiatives to provide consistent variant interpretation, and the nuances of this testing in a case-based discussion. Stephan Moll, MD, will chair a session titled “Infection Risk, Immunization Recommendations, and Antimicrobial Prophylaxis Needs When Treating Non-Malignant Hematologic Disorders: Wash Your Hands and What Else?” Experts will discuss how to manage infection prophylaxis and vaccinations in patients with nonmalignant hematologic disorders treated with various immunosuppressive therapies.

Dr. Wolberg: I am excited to see how this new format works. One real strength is that it provides more flexibility in terms of seeing content than at the in-person meeting. Everything is packed into a short time span, making it difficult to catch everything. Now, we can look at content in advance and, especially as a co-chair, I may get a chance to enjoy more science and content than I would otherwise.

Dr. Kean: This new format essentially allows anyone from anywhere to participate in the ASH Annual Meeting. This is a major benefit of the new format, especially for our international colleagues. It democratizes the meeting in a way that I find exciting.

Another aspect I am excited about is the anchor desk each morning, where ASH leaders will be giving a live preview of that day’s content. The meeting is so expansive that having this insight will be awesome. All of us are used to seeing ASH News TV at the meeting, but a live preview from some central ASH leadership will be very cool.

What will you miss most about the in-person meeting?

Dr. Kean: I am incredibly sad not to see my colleagues. That is what ASH is all about – cutting-edge science and education, but also bringing together this community of people. I cannot wait to get back to being able to see each other again.

Dr. Wolberg: The community-building that takes place every year at the meeting is something that many people look forward to, so I, also, will miss the organic nature of those interactions.

Dr. Keel: Like most people, I will miss seeing my colleagues and friends. There are just so many incredible aspects to an in-person meeting, such as the opportunity to advance or start new collaborations and the inspiration that comes from getting that many people together to celebrate the field. A virtual meeting could never replace that. In addition, to accommodate the virtual platform, we had to eliminate the “How I Treat” and “Meet the Scientist” sessions from this year’s Education and Scientific Programs. It is unfortunate, because those are always favorites of mine and we had some great sessions in mind for this year.

All that said, the Program Committee and ASH staff have put together a wonderful program leveraging all the benefits afforded by a virtual format. I am hopeful that the virtual meeting will still instill in me and all attendees a renewed excitement in, and pride for, hematology.