- The American Association for Cancer Research has postponed its annual meeting, which draws thousands of doctors and scientists from across the globe, over concerns the spread of the new coronavirus would put attendees at risk.
- AACR said it plans to reschedule the meeting, but didn't offer any timeline in a Tuesday statement for when the conference might take place. The group is offering a full refund to those who registered and don't plan to attend on whichever later dates are chosen.
- The postponement by AACR follows decisions by the American College of Cardiology and the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology to cancel their respective yearly conferences. Other associations, such as the American Society for Clinical Oncology, have said they are monitoring coronavirus developments.
AACR expected this year's meeting to be its largest yet, with 24,000 people from 80 countries projected to travel to San Diego to attend the late April conference.
But the growing impact of the coronavirus' spread on cancer centers and companies scheduled to present research, coupled with the public health risk of hosting a large gathering, led the group to postpone.
In recent days, drugmakers like Eli Lilly, Vertex, Bristol Myers Squibb and GlaxoSmithKline have restricted employee travel, as have major hospitals including the MD Anderson Cancer Center and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.
The U.S. government, meanwhile, has put in place travel advisories and limits to stem the movement of people to and from countries most affected by the virus.
For January and much of February, that group did not include the U.S. itself, which had few confirmed cases until the end of last month. Now, however, Washington, New York, California and Massachusetts are dealing with significant outbreaks, as the rest of the country scrambles to ramp up detection efforts, which have been hampered by problems with testing kits developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Conferences like AACR are important forums for the latest research in medicine. Two years ago, for example, data from a study run by Merck & Co. helped to cement the place of the drugmaker's immunotherapy Keytruda in treating lung cancer, a development that's changed clinical practice and boosted the company's fortunes.
AACR noted that more than 7,400 research papers had been submitted for presentation or unveiling at the conference.
"We recognize that the presentation of new data, exchange of information, and opportunities for collaboration offered by the AACR Annual Meeting are highly valued by the entire cancer research community, and we are investigating options for rescheduling the Annual Meeting in the near future," the group said.
The decisions by AACR, ACC and AAAAI could spur other meetings scheduled for this spring and early summer to rethink their plans. Most notable is ASCO's annual meeting, currently scheduled to begin on May 29 in Chicago.
As of March 6, ASCO was still planning to hold the conference. A request for comment from BioPharma Dive was not returned prior to publication of this story.