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ASCO 2022: ICR researchers hit the headlines with innovative approaches to cancer treatment and care


The first in-person ASCO conference since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic took place in Chicago over the weekend. Many researchers from the ICR and The Royal Marsden presented their work in the form of talks or posters. Here we look back over some of our highlights of this year’s meeting.

Posted on 08 June, 2022 by Ichha Khanal

Image showing ASCO 2022 logo with text reading 'Advancing Equitable Cancer Care Through Innovation'.

The 2022 American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) Annual Meeting, held 3–7 June, brought together scientists, clinicians, patient advocates, and other health care professionals from around the world to present and discuss the latest research in cancer treatment and patient care. The theme of this year’s meeting was Advancing Equitable Cancer Care Through Innovation.

Attendees returned to Chicago for their first in-person ASCO Annual Meeting since the Covid-19 pandemic. They learnt about cutting-edge developments to improve cancer care for patients and heard updates from latest clinical trials in one of the biggest cancer-related annual events in the world.

Some of the most exciting scientific research presented at this year’s ASCO Annual Meeting by researchers at The Institute of Cancer Research, London, and The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust are highlighted below.

Expanding the reach of genetic testing to benefit patients

On Friday, Professor Ros Eeles presented the results from the whole genome sequencing study to screen patients for genetic changes in a primary care setting. The pilot 90S Study, the first of its kind in the UK, aimed to assess if whole genome sequencing could be feasibly provided to patients at their GP practice and whether it could be beneficial for their health.

Working with The Royal Marsden, in partnership with cardiology consultants at The Royal Brompton and Harefield Hospitals and with The London Genetics Centre at 90 Sloane Street (a private GP practice), Professor Eeles and her ICR team screened 102 healthy participants for ‘actionable’ genetic changes.

They found that a quarter of the participants had alterations that increased their risk of diseases such as cancer and heart disease. Additionally, around 60 per cent of participants carried an inherited mutation in a ‘recessive’ gene which could be passed on to the next generation if their partner also has the same ‘recessive’ mutation.

The results led to changes in the way patients and their families were managed by the doctors. Sajid Javid, the Health Secretary, said: “This study shows the potential for genome sequencing in enabling patients with life-changing diseases to receive early diagnoses just by visiting their GPs.”

Professor Eeles hopes that the study will pave the way for genomic screening to be routinely provided to patients in primary care, but she also emphasised that more work is required to demonstrate the full benefit for patients with the detected alterations.

The study showed that it is possible for whole genome sequencing to be delivered by GPs in a primary care setting and has the potential to significantly improve people’s health. The team are now exploring ways to translate these findings to the NHS.

Millions of adults will be offered a DNA test at GP surgeries to detect their risk of cancer and heart disease under plans for a “healthcare revolution”

— The Times (@thetimes) June 3, 2022

Defeating cancer’s ‘death star’ with new drug combination

On Monday, Dr Anna Minchom presented data from a Phase I trial (NCT02407509) investigating the effects of a new drug combination in advanced cancers with mutations in the KRAS gene. The KRAS protein – dubbed cancer’s ‘death star’ – drives one in four cancers and is notoriously difficult to target due to its impenetrable surface.

The team of researchers from the Drug Development Unit at the ICR and The Royal Marsden employed a new approach using two drugs, VS-6766 and everolimus, to target two essential pathways in KRAS-driven cancers and stop it from growing further.

Using a pioneering dosing schedule to prevent side effects, the trial tested the new combination in 28 patients with advanced lung, ovarian and thyroid cancer.

The treatment showed benefit in patients with a range of KRAS mutations, especially those with highly advanced, non-curable non-small cell lung cancer where 50 per cent (5/10) of patients receiving treatment were progression free at six months.

Study lead Professor Udai Banerji said: “Many groups have walked away from trying to simultaneously drug the two pathways we know KRAS relies upon to drive growth because side effects were too severe for patients.

"We are heartened that by using an innovative dosing schedule, we’ve managed to slow cancers progression in several patients who had run out of treatment options. If we see similar findings in a larger number of patients, we could see this combination taken through larger clinical trials.”

‘Life-changing’ treatment combination prolongs life by controlling tumour growth

— The Telegraph (@Telegraph) June 4, 2022

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Improving disease-free survival with adjuvant pembrolizumab in NSCLC

Also on Monday, Professor Mary O’Brien presented data from the Phase III KEYNOTE-091 trial that looks at adjuvant treatment with pembrolizumab in patients with early-stage non-small cell lung carcinoma (NSCLC).

The interim results presented earlier this year showed that treatment with pembrolizumab in the adjuvant setting following surgery extended disease-free survival in patients by almost a year compared with placebo. Notably, the improvements were seen across patients irrespective of PD-L1 expression.

The latest study data reported improved disease-free survival with pembrolizumab regardless of type of surgery, lymph node involvement, tumour size or type of adjuvant chemotherapy compared with placebo, supporting the drug’s benefit as adjuvant therapy in a broad range of patients with early-stage NSCLC post-surgery.

Professor O'Brien hopes the encouraging results will have important implications for treating this group of patients in the future.

‘Practice-changing’ radiotherapy technique for treating head and neck cancer

Also presented on Monday were the two-year results from the Phase III Dysphagia-Aspiration Related Structures (DARS) trial, led by Professor Christopher Nutting. The DARS trial, coordinated by the ICR Clinical Trials and Statistics Unit, investigates a new precision radiotherapy technique for treating head and neck cancer.

The results showed that patients experienced fewer side effects after treatment with the dysphagia-optimised intensity modulated radiotherapy (DO-IMRT) compared with standard IMRT at two years following treatment.

The cutting-edge technique, pioneered by researchers from The Royal Marsden and the ICR, reduces radiation to the muscles that control swallowing. This minimises damage to the region and lowers the risk of swallowing difficulties, known as dysphagia.

The ‘practice changing’ treatment greatly improved the quality of life of patients with head and neck cancer with 40 per cent of those treated with DO-IMRT reporting normal swallowing function compared with 20 per cent of those treated with standard-IMRT (out of 56 patients in each group).

DO-IMRT can be achieved in all centres that offer standard IMRT but requires some additional adjustments to be made by the radiation oncologist and physicist. Professor Nutting hopes to teach and share this technique globally, so that more patients can benefit from the new kinder treatment.

Back to in-person conferences

As the first in-person meeting in two years, there was a lot of buzz around this year’s ASCO Annual Meeting. The conference provides a great platform for the best and brightest minds in cancer research to share their findings with the global scientific community.

We hope our researchers and all the attendees used the opportunity to discuss exciting ideas with colleagues and gained some valuable insights for improving treatment for cancer patients.

Read more news and stories from the ASCO Annual Meeting.

ASCO Annual Meeting


radiotherapy Ros Eeles Udai Banerji ASCO head and neck cancer pembrolizumab VS-6766 everolimus screening non-small cell lung cancer combination therapy ASCO 2022 Anna Minchom Christopher Nutting Mary O'Brien whole genome sequencing
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