The widening spread of the new coronavirus in the U.S. and Europe is beginning to disrupt major medical association meetings, particularly as research institutions and pharmaceutical companies place restrictions on employee travel.
On Sunday and then on Monday, the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology and the American College of Cardiology canceled their respective annual meetings scheduled for March, citing coronavirus concerns.
Conferences like ACC and AAAI regularly draw tens of thousands of scientists, physicians and industry researchers for days of presentations on clinical practice and new study results. The public health risk of large gatherings has grown as the virus spreads, however, pushing conference organizers to consider precautions.
HIMSS20, a major health technology conference, was supposed to begin Monday in Orlando, Florida. But the risk of bringing nearly 50,000 people together in one place proved too high for conference organizers, who last week abruptly canceled the meeting.
In its decision, HIMSS cited concerns over potentially exposing the many healthcare professionals who attend the conference to the new coronavirus, now called SARS-CoV-2.
Medical associations holding annual meetings this spring are now facing a similar choice, and the decisions taken by ACC and AAAI could be followed by other conferences.
"The American College of Cardiology has made the difficult and unprecedented decision to cancel the ACC's Scientific Session," the group said in its statement. "The decision to cancel ACC's flagship annual event was not taken lightly.
The conference plans to explore virtual presentation options for some of the meeting's agenda.
More than 500 people in the U.S. have been treated for the virus as of Monday morning, according to a database maintained by The New York Times, although problems with testing kits have delayed detection efforts. Widespread outbreaks are also ongoing in China and other foreign countries, including Italy, South Korea, Iran and Japan, prompting governments to put in place travel restrictions.
Limits on employee travel, meanwhile, are being put in place at U.S. institutions like the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston and MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, as well as at major pharmaceutical companies.
"We were recently made aware that several stakeholders, including cancer centers, academic institutions, and pharmaceutical companies, are considering or have instituted temporary travel restrictions that, if unchanged, would prevent their employees from attending or presenting at the Annual Meeting," the American Association of Cancer Research said in a Mar. 5 statement.
As of last Friday, AACR was still planning to hold its annual meeting in April, but the association cautioned the situation could change quickly.
The spring and early summer features a number of other major medical conferences, including gatherings held by American Academy of Neurology and the American Society of Clinical Oncology.
Upcoming medical meetings in the U.S. and Europe
|Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections||Boston||Made virtual|
|American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology||Philadelphia||Canceled|
|American Association of Cardiology||Chicago||Canceled|
|International Liver Congress||London||Apr. 15 - Apr. 19|
|American Association of Cancer Research||San Diego||Apr. 24 - Apr. 29|
|American Academy of Neurology||Toronto||Apr. 25 - May 1|
|American Society of Gene and Cell Therapy||Boston||May 12 - May 15|
|American Society of Clinical Oncology||Chicago||May 29 - Jun. 2|
|BIO International||San Diego||Jun. 8 - Jun. 11|
|European Hematology Association||Frankfurt||Jun. 11 - Jun. 14|
|American Diabetes Association||Chicago||Jun. 12 - Jun. 16|
The ADA, which hosts its meeting in Chicago in June, said it "actively evaluating developments concerning COVID-19" in a statement to BioPharma Dive.
ASCO, meanwhile, said it "continues to monitor" COVID-19 and is "committed to safe and productive 2020 Annual Meeting experience."
One smaller meeting, the annual conference held by the National Comprehensive Cancer Network, has also been canceled. Scheduled for late March, the meeting was expected to draw some 1,500 attendees.
Even small gatherings of people can risk the spread of SARS-CoV-2, which appears to be highly infectious. Some two dozen attendees at a Biogen employee meeting in late February, for example, were recently confirmed to have been infected.