AACR Annual Meeting 2021: Discovery Science Driving Clinical Breakthroughs

The Opening Ceremony of AACR Annual Meeting 2021 set the stage for a dynamic forum for presenting and sharing the latest advances in cancer science.

Despite the constraints of a virtual meeting, organizers have embraced the unique possibilities that come with the format. With a theme of “Discovery Science Driving Clinical Breakthroughs,” the meeting will be held in two segments—Week 1 began Saturday and concludes April 15, and Week 2 is set for May 17-21. Over the course of the two weeks, the Annual Meeting will showcase cutting-edge research in basic, clinical, and translational cancer research, while allowing researchers around the world to forge bonds and expand their professional networks. This year’s attendees represent more than 70 nations.

“While we wish we could all gather in person for this spectacular event, the opportunity to unite virtually, with the goal of championing and accelerating progress against cancer, empowers us to network and connect in new ways,” said Margaret Foti, PhD, MD (hc) chief executive officer of the AACR.  

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Margaret Foti, PhD, MD (hc)

“Now, more than ever, it is imperative that our innovative work continues, because patients with cancer around the world are counting on us,” she said.

Foti introduced AACR President Antoni Ribas, MD, PhD, FAACR, noting that he and immediate Past President Elaine R. Mardis were instrumental in reorganizing the 2020 Annual Meeting when the coronavirus pandemic made it impossible to hold the meeting in San Diego, as previously planned. Last year’s meeting drew more than 74,000 attendees, and established a platform for an entire year’s worth of virtual scientific conferences and meetings, including timely meetings on COVID-19 and Cancer.

“I am extremely proud that in spite of the challenges posed by COVID-19, the AACR has continued to move forward in very substantive ways in support of its mission to prevent and cure all cancers,” said Ribas, who is professor of Medicine at the David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California Los Angeles; director of the UCLA Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center Tumor Immunology Program; and director of the Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy Center at UCLA.

Ribas AM21
Antoni Ribas, MD, PhD, FAACR

Ribas reflected on the challenges the coronavirus pandemic forced upon the cancer research community, but noted that cancer research provided the framework of the mRNA-based COVID-19 vaccines that are now being distributed around the world. This synergy underscores the importance of basic cancer research, Ribas said.

“All of us today can be grateful for the fact that science answered the call to confront the threat to global health that the pandemic has posed,” he told attendees.

Ribas thanked Foti for her visionary leadership through unprecedented times, and lauded the Annual Meeting 2021 Program Chair, Charles Swanton, MBPhD, FRCP, FMedSci, FRS, FAACR, for his role in developing a robust scientific program.

Also Sunday morning, the new class of Fellows of the AACR Academy and the recipients of this year’s scientific awards and lectureships were announced. These awards honor distinguished contributions across the whole continuum of cancer care and research. A full list of honorees is available on the AACR website, and you can learn more about the Fellows in this video:

Among the honorees: U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi, speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, who received the 2021 AACR Distinguished Public Service Award in recognition of her leadership as a champion for science-related issues.

Pelosi reflected on how the COVID-19 pandemic has illuminated disparities in health care, a major focus of the AACR.

“Just as we must ensure equal access to care for those facing COVID-19, we must also ensure that everyone, especially those facing a cancer diagnosis, has access to the quality, affordable health care and prescription drugs that they need,” Pelosi said.

The writers of Cancer Research Catalyst look forward to bringing you the latest developments from Week 1 of the Annual Meeting. Please use the hashtag #AACR21 to follow the meeting and share content on Twitter. You can easily track blog coverage with the hashtag #AACRBlog.

This year, for the first time, AACR News will provide daily updates on major programs and sessions. Cancer Today, the AACR’s magazine for cancer patients, survivors, and their family and friends, will also provide regular coverage.