ESMO 2016: My Perspective as a Patient Advocate

by Imogen Cheese
ESMO 2016

The ESMO, European Society for Medical Oncologists, annual conference took place in Copenhagen over an extended weekend. I was fortunate to attend as a patient advocate which was quite an honor. There were over 20,000 delegates in attendance and just 150 European patients.

Imperial CRS is extremely proud of – and continually committed to – bringing the most relevant tools to the table for our Pharma & CRO clients. Our translation team is trained to clinical grade and our PM’s are completely versed in the complexities of clinical studies. Patient recruitment & patient engagement has been a strength of the company for some time so having an active patient advocate on our team provides genuine depth and understanding of the movement towards patient centric care.

Most delegates attending a conference as large as ESMO attend to view, follow or focus upon 1 particular track. This gives them time to view the array of stands in the exhibition arena, to visit some of the city the event is located at and even to socialize with colleagues or clients.

My schedule was somewhat less flexible. I was following the full Patient Advocacy, Melanoma & Immunotherapy tracks – which took significant juggling, a keen understanding of how to navigate the comprehensive program, and an ability to move fast from one end of the venue to another in order to secure seating not just inside the halls (rather than in overflow rooms), but also preferably near the front so I could speak to the presenters afterwards. I also wanted, as a patient advocate to be near the front so I could capture photographs throughout & live tweet entire event. My phone has an ESMO album of 1,396 pictures!

The program started in earnest on Friday morning & I was effectively in back to back talks & symposiums from 8am until 7pm right through until Tuesday afternoon & my return flight to the UK. Even at 7pm most nights I would then jump onto shuttle buses or the local Metro system in order to attend the patient advocacy training sessions provided by Pharma. What could potentially be called “down time” wasn’t particularly relaxing & I can certainly say I am both mentally invigorated after this event, but also utterly exhausted!

There really have been some huge advances in the world of oncology in recent years, for Melanoma specifically there have been 10 new drug treatment options that have become available in the last 5 years alone. This is truly amazing & proves the speed & efficiency in which many clinical trial processes are now operating. This innovation and patient centered approach ensures efficacy, and resulting successful trial outcomes enable further research to facilitate multiple indication use.

I attended teaching sessions for immunotherapy where potentially remarkable early phase trials were reviewed which have the means to shape cancer treatment. I joined discussions on adherence which highlighted astounding statistics like side effects causing more deaths in Europe than breast cancer and talks on very emotive issues like pregnancy & cancer. There was the opportunity to learn at a basic level, but because the average attendee was not just medically qualified but also a practicing or trainee oncologist I was challenged & found the experience incredible.

Developments in science have moved faster than reimbursement procedures and HTA barriers & therefore the patient advocacy track was really worth following. The presence of patient advocates at events like ESMO has historically been non-existent. In recent years this lack of visibility has changed & this year’s ESMO broke the mold for future cancer congress’s across the globe. The Patient advocate track was the largest track at the entire event. Even more importantly there has since been a remarkable breakthrough. The European Society for Medical Oncology now recognizes patient advocates as healthcare professionals and has opened it’s membership to advocates with full membership rights including voting and access. I have become a member.

I would like to thank many of our pharma clients for the numerous drinks of coffee I obtained at their stands over the weekend. This not only gave me a wonderful opportunity to learn more about some inspiring & exiting projects across a wide breadth of indications, but the coffee provided much needed caffeine & the chance to sit still for a moment!

My intense 5 day visit to Copenhagen was incredible but I felt like a vampire that had hidden inside the building during daylight hours so on route to the airport I took the opportunity to visit a little mermaid. She was smaller than you might imagine, but she symbolized much of what ESMO achieved, a guiding beacon & hope.


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