AACR joins list of medical conferences to get axed, postponed amid coronavirus spread

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The American Association for Cancer Research has decided to postpone its annual meeting due to the coronavirus outbreak. (Shutterstock)

Forget about all the handshakes and face-to-face exchanges of scientific knowledge. As the novel coronavirus continues to spread across the globe, the risk of possible exposure has forced many big social gatherings to shut down—and medical conferences are no exception, though some remain on the fence.

What would usually be a busy professional meeting season—and a guaranteed scientific news flow—is now being quieted by the contagious pathogen, which has so far infected nearly 120,000 people worldwide and killed more than 4,200. (Scroll down for a list of medical conferences we're monitoring.)

Most recently, the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) decided to postpone its annual meeting “after careful consideration and comprehensive evaluation of currently available information related to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak,” the organization said Tuesday. The conference was previously planned for April 24-29 in San Diego.

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It considered the U.S. restrictions on some international travelers; other business travel bans by U.S. government agencies, cancer centers, academic institutions and biopharma companies; as well as the counsel of infectious disease experts. “It is clear that all of these elements significantly affect the ability of delegates, speakers, presenters of proffered papers, and exhibitors to participate fully in the annual meeting,” the association’s statement read.

Back in 2003, AACR canceled its annual meeting just three days before it was due to begin in Toronto in April amid the outbreak of SARS, which is also caused by a coronavirus.

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This time, it's not alone. Among the first to take a hit was, ironically, an infectious disease-focused meeting. The ongoing annual Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections (CROI), which over the years has played host to some important presentations in HIV research, has gone virtual, with webcasts taking the place of in-person sessions behind closed venue doors.

It was kind of a last-minute decision. ViiV Healthcare R&D chief Kimberly Smith recently told FiercePharma that her team had fully expected the conference to be cancelled, only to receive confirmation that it would be business as usual. Just as she was planning to use plenty of hand sanitizers while at the meeting, the CROI leadership announced Friday “the difficult decision” to move the event digital, just two days before it all kicked into gear.

“Many countries, agencies, and institutions have now banned travel, and many infectious disease physicians are urgently needed to care for patients with COVID-19 in their own institutions,” the CROI organizers said in a statement.

Boston, which was supposed to hold CROI, is in fact the center of a U.S. outbreak linked to none other than a business conference within the biopharma industry. Last week, Biogen confirmed that three employees who had attended a management meeting there tested positive for the new coronavirus. Now, 70 presumptive or confirmed cases have been tied to the conference. Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker has declared a state of emergency in response to the outbreak.

RELATED: With meeting case count rising, Biogen tells attendees to prep for quarantine, isolate from loved ones

At least Smith and her colleagues still get to showcase on a large platform GSK's new findings from a bimonthly HIV injection and longer-term results from once-monthly Cabenuva. Others may not.

Blueprint Medicines is resorting to an investors’ call—instead of a late-breaking oral presentation—to report updated data for its newly approved cancer med Ayvakit in patients with indolent systemic mastocytosis, following the cancellation of the 2020 American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (AAAAI) annual meeting.

In a statement on Sunday, AAAAI President David Lang said, “it has reached a point with COVID-19 where the AAAAI felt it was absolutely necessary to cancel the annual meeting in order to protect the health and safety of attendees.” The event was originally scheduled to take place Mar. 13-16 in Philadelphia.

RELATED: China turns Roche arthritis drug Actemra against COVID-19 in new treatment guidelines

Major medical meetings that have also gotten the ax this year include the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) annual meeting in Denver. “Due to the limited number of academic faculty able to present at our meeting and other related factors” as a result of travel bans from institutions, the organization has “made the difficult, but necessary decision” to cancel the event, AAD President George Hruza recently said in an announcement.

In Chicago, which in January reported the first U.S. case of person-to-person spread of the coronavirus, the American College of Cardiology (ACC) has scrapped its flagship annual meeting. While announcing the cancellation Monday, the ACC said it’s mulling over virtual options for presentations and will provide an update soon. The meeting was originally scheduled for Mar. 28-30.

Some other meetings planned for April or further out remain on the lookout. The American Academy of Neurology (AAN) said it remains “optimistic about a successful and well-attended annual meeting” from Apr. 25 to May 1 in Toronto, according to its most recent update on Friday.

“This is a dynamic and evolving situation,” the AAN team added, saying that it continues to monitor and discuss the situation, even as the “current CDC risk for COVID-19 is low.”

RELATED: Dana-Farber, MD Anderson ban all business travel over COVID-19

As for the cancer research event of the year, the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO), organizers canceled that live event on March 24. Instead, ASCO plans a virtual event.

Several drugmakers have limited employee travel. Leading U.S. cancer institutions such as Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and MD Anderson Cancer Center have also banned all business travel. 

*UPDATED: Upcoming Medical Conferences:

Conference Location Status
Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections (CROI) Boston Virtual
European Society of Radiology (ESR) Vienna Pp. July 15-19
American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (AAAAI) Philadelphia Canceled
European Breast Cancer Conference (EBCC) Barcelona Pp. Sep. 30-Oct. 20
American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) Denver Canceled
European Association of Urology (EAU) Amsterdam Pp. July
Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA) Orlando Postponed
American College of Cardiology (ACC) Chicago Canceled/Virtual
Endocrine Society (ENDO) San Francisco Canceled
European Association for the Study of the Liver (EASL) London Pp. Aug. 25-28
The American College of Physicians (ACP) Los Angeles Canceled
American Association of Cancer Research (AACR) San Diego Postponed
American Academy of Neurology (AAN) Toronto Canceled
American Society of Gene & Cell Therapy (ASGCT) Boston May 12-15
American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) Chicago Virtual, May 29-June 2
Biotechnology Innovation Organization (BIO) San Diego June 8-11
European Hematology Association (EHA) Frankfurt June 11-14
American Diabetes Association (ADA) Chicago June 12-16

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