“Beyond Standing Room Only” – Thoughts on the 22nd Annual Meeting of the Society of Gene and Cell Therapy – Dr. Janet Benson


As someone who has watched the ASGCT conference grow fairly steadily over the last 11 years, the growth in meeting attendance and vendor presence between 2018 and 2019 is nothing short of stunning. It was not uncommon in the past few years to need to stand during sessions to hear presentations, but never before has there been a line to get into a session, or the need to “attend” talks via monitors in the conference center hallways, or via streaming on personal computers in the “comfort” of hotel rooms.

The breadth of science presented has expanded to include more RNA based therapies and strategies for non-viral DNA or RNA therapy delivery to target cell.

Scientifically, the most amazing presentation for me was Dr. Michel Sadelain’s Lecture on the “Making of a Living Drug”. This was essentially an overview of the development of CAR-T cell therapy for treating cancers.   It was a testimonial to scientific thought and collaboration (the “Acknowledgment” slide was completely full of names – maybe hundreds- in very small print), long term vision, and persistence.

Encouraging were the sessions focused on policies for getting therapies to the patient, beyond developing effective and safe products. In the background of gene therapy discussion was always the realization of how expensive gene therapies were…even though generally they need to be delivered once or a few times, not daily or weekly like other small molecule or protein therapies they might replace. A specific example was the session, “Pricing, Access, and Value of Gene Therapies – What are the real world Challenges and Solutions?”.   Groups are addressing policy to find payment strategies that insurance companies and employers can afford for generally a small subset of individuals they insure, with minimizing risk in the event a therapy does not work for a particular patient.

Another session, “Right to Try or Wrong to Try?” addressed the ethics of how to provide patients with rare diseases access to the new therapies.

Overall, the meeting was outstanding.   One wonders how much more it will continue to grow in 2020.