ASCO’s Incoming President-Elect Charts His Course for 2017
A Conversation With Bruce E. Johnson, MD, FASCO
I want every member from all constituent communities, including community oncologists, academic oncologists, oncology surgeons, radiation oncologists, and other oncology professionals, to feel that he or she has a voice in our Society.
—Bruce E. Johnson, MD, FASCO
Bruce E. Johnson, MD, FASCO, was elected ASCO President for the 2017–2018 term this past December and will take office as President-Elect during the ASCO Annual Meeting, June 3–7, 2016, in Chicago. As an ASCO member since 1986, Dr. Johnson brings over 30 years of experience with ASCO to the position. He has served in a variety of volunteer and leadership capacities in the Society, including as member of the Board of Directors from 2008 to 2011; Chair of the Audit, Cancer Education, and Cancer Communications Committees; and member of the Editorial Board of the Journal of Clinical Oncology. He is currently a member of ASCO’s Bylaws Committee. In 2008, Dr. Johnson was awarded the Translational Research Professorship from the Conquer Cancer Foundation of ASCO.
A clinician and researcher specializing in lung cancer and other thoracic malignancies, Dr. Johnson has also been involved in professional organizations closely allied with ASCO, including the American Association for Cancer Research and the International Association for the Study of Lung Cancer, and has served on a number of committees, including the External Advisory Committee for The Cancer Genome Atlas, as well as study sections within the National Cancer Institute, such as the Special Emphasis Panel to review the Specialized Program of Research Excellence (SPORE), the Clinical Oncology Study Section, and the Thoracic Malignancy Steering Committee.
The ASCO Post talked with Dr. Johnson, Chief Clinical Research Officer and Institute Physician at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute; Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School; Director of the Dana-Farber/Harvard Cancer Center (DF/HCC) Lung Cancer Program; and Principal Investigator of the DF/HCC Lung Cancer Specialized Program of Research Excellence, about his greatest challenges and goals as he prepares for his tenure as ASCO President.
Challenges and Priorities
As you look at your time as President-Elect during 2016 and then your term as President of ASCO in 2017, what do you anticipate will be your greatest challenges?
The biggest challenges we face as a Society are, one, how to effectively disseminate the information from discoveries made in precision medicine and determine how that knowledge will change the treatment paradigm for our patients. And, two, we have to make certain that our patients have access to those medicines in terms of affordability and that as an oncology community, we can work toward a rational way to assess the value of our innovative oncology care.
What are your top priority goals? Do you have plans to launch new initiatives?
I have consistently stated that I perceive a major responsibility of the President is to embrace the policies that the Society has adopted in the past and to be thoughtful about taking on new initiatives. I think one of the most important responsibilities of the President of ASCO is to make certain that there are adequate resources to deal with unanticipated issues that come up during the Presidency.
The areas of focus that are important to me include bringing the capabilities of personalized and precision medicine to the clinic and assuring that scientific advances taking place within the academic cancer centers continue to move to the community practices. The other important component to practicing high-quality precision medicine is using Big Data to learn from every patient’s tumor biology, which ASCO is helping to achieve with CancerLinQ™. Having this kind of health IT platform will help inform oncologists about how both to characterize the tumors and determine what to prescribe for specific changes within those tumors.
You will be President-Elect and President during the early stages of implementation of CancerLinQ. How do you expect the integration of Big Data into clinical care will affect clinical practice and improve oncology care for patients?
The migration of patient data from paper to electronic medical records in both our academic and community oncology settings as well as the integration of those records into a highly complex Big Data system like CancerLinQ are challenges.
I am helping with this process at my institution, and getting all the disparate information systems to interact with each other remains a challenge, but we owe it to our oncologists and patients to make this transition to a rapid learning system so we can improve the overall quality of cancer care. In addition, we need to make adoption of the systems as seamless as possible.
As the CancerLinQ system continues to develop, support should be made available to help guide our members to the most effective treatments tailored to each patient’s tumors. I will work with members of the CancerLinQ LLC Board of Governors, the ASCO Institute for Quality, the ASCO Board, the Advisory Groups, ASCO staff, and volunteers to continue to expand and streamline the clinical practice guidelines process, make the health information technology resources available for delivering care to our patients, and integrate the performance measures as part of oncology practice.
Workforce and Drug Costs
There are so many challenges facing the practice of oncology, including an aging oncology workforce and soaring drug costs. How is ASCO meeting these challenges?
The number of aging oncologists likely to reduce their practices is placing a strain on the oncology workforce, and the number of those entering the field of oncology is not going to meet the needs of our patients over the next decades. The problem of a potential workforce shortage is being compounded by an increasing aging population who will need oncology care and the efficacy of our treatments to live longer. ASCO has supported bringing more advanced practice providers, including nurse practitioners and physician assistants, into the fold and making them feel welcomed, because advanced-practice providers have to be part of the workforce shortage solution.
It is time to examine the number of people we are training to be the next generation of researchers and practicing oncologists and work with the training programs to attempt to meet the demand for our services. The problem can only be solved for a short period by oncologists practicing longer hours and seeing more patients. The ultimate solution will involve expanding our workforce.
The issue of the high cost of drugs and cancer care is one of our more complex areas to tackle. Part of ASCO’s advocacy responsibilities as a Society is to make certain that effective drugs are available to our patients who need them. Finding solutions to the financial issues of cancer care is partly dependent on the actions of our governmental officials. I see our role as making concerns about our ability to deliver effective cancer care very clear to our policymakers and lawmakers.
An important role ASCO can, and should. take is to raise public awareness on the impact of the high cost of cancer care on our patients. We have to present a continually clear, consistent message to the public and to members of Congress and our state legislators over a long period about the importance of fair stable payments for oncology practices, access to high-quality cancer care, quality initiatives, and funding for cancer research, and then appropriate action among our lawmakers can take place. We have to be cognizant that access to effective cancer care should not be a partisan issue.
A Global Health Priority
Please talk about how ASCO is addressing the growing global needs of oncology care.
Approximately 34% of ASCO’s nearly 40,000 members reside outside the United States. In 2013, ASCO launched ASCO International (asco.org/international) to connect members, organizations, and countries around the world through programs to share oncology knowledge and research opportunities to make cancer care a global health priority. Recently, ASCO expanded its programs and launched the Journal of Global Oncology to publish information on cancer care in low- and middle-income countries and present the challenges faced by health-care professionals in resource-constrained settings. We need to ensure that the needs of our international members—as well as our members in the United States—continue to be met.
ASCO International programs are designed to improve the quality and delivery of care to patients in each locale, and we look to our international colleagues to give us guidance on the most effective ways to do that because they are the best judges of their patients’ needs. It is important for ASCO to continue to give our international members the tools for advocating their goals and what they hope to accomplish within their own geographic region. And I will continue to support ASCO’s effort in these areas.
Having a Voice
What legacy would you like to leave on the Society?
I want every member from all constituent communities, including community oncologists, academic oncologists, oncology surgeons, radiation oncologists, and other oncology professionals, to feel that they have a voice in our Society. I also want to help enable our community to understand and implement the benefits of personalized and precision medicine.
I am honored that my peers elected me to the position of President of ASCO and understand that I will have a relatively brief time to play some role in shepherding the Society to the next level. I want to assure members that ASCO and I will be responsive to their needs—both in the short and long term. ■
Disclosure: Dr. Johnson reported no potential conflicts of interest.