2021 AACI/CCAF Annual Meeting Highlights Equity, Diversity


With continued health concerns and restrictions caused by the coronavirus pandemic, the 2021 AACI/CCAF Annual Meeting was held virtually in October. More than 500 cancer center members and other colleagues participated in the three-day event. Presentations covered a wide range of topics including telehealth; COVID-19’s impact on cancer centers; computational oncology; cancer care across the lifespan; research at basic science cancer centers; and adapting clinical trials to patients’ changing needs.

Noting that racial and health equity have taken center stage in the national dialogue since last summer, Dr. Norman E. Sharpless, director of the National Cancer Institute (NCI), shared vignettes of patients who had trouble accessing cancer care. In the past year, he said, the NCI focused on persistent poverty as a major factor complicating access to care and found that overall cancer mortality is 12.3 percent higher in counties with persistent poverty than in non-persistent poverty counties.

Reflecting on President Joe Biden’s determination to "end cancer as we know it," Dr. Sharpless said that eradicating all cancer may not be realistic, "but we think we can change the face of cancer, and the tragedy of cancer, as we know it today." He added that he is optimistic that we can "dramatically decelerate" the annual rate of deaths from cancer in the U.S., which stands at approximately 600,000 per year.

Henry Ciolino, PhD, director of NCI’s Office of Cancer Centers, led a discussion about recent changes to guidelines for the Cancer Center Support Grant application, including requirements for consortium partners and research programs. Of particular interest was the implementation of extensive plans to enhance diversity among cancer center membership and leadership.

In other presentations, AACI President Dr. Caryn Lerman detailed plans for her presidential initiative focusing on leadership development at cancer centers with an emphasis on diversity. Previous AACI president, Dr. Karen E. Knudsen, also provided an update on her presidential initiative, which addresses cancer health disparities.

A panel discussion around this year’s 50th anniversary of the National Cancer Act, which established the NCI's network of cancer centers, featured Dr. Otis W. Brawley, Dr. Robert T. Croyle, Dr. Michelle M. Le Beau, Dr. Robert H. Vonderheide, and Julie C. Schaum.

Three AACI awards were presented during the meeting:

  • Dr. Judy E. Garber received the Distinguished Scientist Award. She was recognized for her breakthrough research on the treatment of triple-negative or basal-like breast cancer and she described advances in research in clinical cancer genetics during her keynote lecture.
  • The inaugural Cancer Health Equity Award was presented to Dr. Robert A. Winn, AACI’s vice president/president elect and director of the VCU Massey Cancer Center. Dr. Winn moderated a panel discussion on cancer disparities during the meeting.
  • Caroline and Sidney Kimmel accepted the Champion for Cures Award for their transformational philanthropy that advances our shared vision of a future without cancer.

Dr. Croyle, former director of the NCI’s Division of Cancer Control and Population Sciences, was also honored for his service to the cancer research community.

Reviewing AACI’s service to members in 2021, Executive Director Jennifer W. Pegher acknowledged annual meeting support from Advarra, Astellas, Caris Life Sciences, Ciox Health, Complion, ECG Management Consultants, Florence, GlaxoSmithKline-GSK, Huron, nCoup, Novartis, Patient Resource, Pfizer, Society for Immunotherapy of Cancer, UHealth Miami, Varian Medical Systems, Veeva, WCG Velos, and WellSky. The meeting included vendor presentations from Advarra and Florence.

2021 meeting recordings and highlights are available on Attendee Hub. The 2022 AACI/CCAF Annual Meeting is slated to take place October 2-4 at the InterContinental at the Plaza in Kansas City, MO.