This weekend opens the largest oncology meeting in the world ASCO 2014 in Chicago, IL. Over 20,000 oncologists from around the world come to hear the latest science in cancer treatment including presentations by company scientists on preclinical, phase I and phase II treatments.
Last year the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO), drastically changed their policy on how they deal with perceived conflicts of interest. The policy stated that ASCO would not accept research abstracts or manuscripts by authors who had been an employee, major stockholder, or member of the speakers’ bureau of the sponsor of the research during the past two years. We noted that this policy would further shrink US conference attendance.
Just recently, however, ASCO announced that they would delay enforcement of the speaker ban until it could assess the full impact that the restrictions on relationships with companies would have on research publication and presentation with respect to ASCO’s educational and scientific offerings as well as the authors. “The author restrictions set out in Section V [the speaker ban] will not be enforced, pending a two-to-three-year period of data-gathering and analysis,” ASCO notes.
We believe the speaker ban is an unworkable policy, and this delay shows hopefully that ASCO recognizes it as well. American associations who have adopted similar policies have seen 30 – 40% reductions in attendance for US meetings. European counterparts, on the other hand, have exploded with corresponding increases in attendance. While this would be fine if US patients could benefit from education overseas, the reality is that medical studies presented and published in Europe can take years before US physicians hear about them. In field like oncology, where patients need cutting edge treatment, this is a real problem.
While ASCO delayed the enforcement on the two year outright ban, they adopted new disclosure requirements that are strict. The new policy names eight categories of financial relationships that must be disclosed: (1) compensated employment, (2) leadership positions, (3) consulting activities, (4) speaking engagements, (5) expert testimony, (6) ownership interests, (7) research funding, and (8) patents or other intellectual property interests.
Furthermore, all authors, including the first, last, and corresponding authors, will be required to fully disclose all of their financial relationships with for-profit health care companies, regardless of whether the author believes the relationships to be specifically relevant to their research or ASCO activity. The first, last, and corresponding authors are required to answer additional non-restrictive questions regarding their relationships with the research sponsor for reports on original research.
It will be interesting to see whether ASCO eventually bans speakers or whether the “two-to-three-year period of data-gathering and analysis” changes their minds.
We also wonder what the effect of the original announcement had on the quality and quantity of abstracts submitted to their meeting. I think the “gathering of information” will show them banning company science was a very bad idea to begin with.