Watch the full video of the Conference.
The Vall d’Hebron Campus celebrated today a conference in the World Cancer Day. The journalist specialized in science from La Vanguardia, Josep Corbella, has served as master of ceremonies. The day was opened by Dr. Albert Salazar, manager of the Vall d'Hebron University Hospital, highlighting that "apart from COVID-19, we have a commitment with other pathologies that are still present, such as cancer".
The inaugural lecture was given by Dr. Antoni Ribas, Professor of Medicine, Surgery and Molecular and Medical Pharmacology at the University of California (UCLA) and director of the Tumor Immunology Program at the Johnsson Comprehensive Cancer Center. Dr. Ribas is a world leader in immunotherapy to treat melanoma. His intervention has focused on exposing his main line of research: "Create an immune system to attack cancer". One of his latest advances is the creation of "an artificial immune response that amplifies the signal received by lymphocytes so that the immune system reacts against the tumour without having to add chemotherapy".
How COVID-19 Has Affected Cancer Treatment and Research
Following this talk, started the first of the two round tables of the Conference: "How has COVID-19 affected cancer treatment and research". As the experts have highlighted, because of the pandemic, health centers have dedicated a good part of their resources to patients with COVID-19. Plus, the fear of contagion has made some patients with cancer symptoms leave the visit with the doctor for later. In this sense, Dr. Antonio Roman, Vall d'Hebron healthcare director, said that "the organizational transformation of the hospital has allowed the oncology activity to continue".
"A year later, the effects of the pandemic on cancer can be estimated at 12% fewer cases diagnosed compared to 2019 in the whole of Catalonia", said Dr. Josep Maria Borràs, director of the Oncology Master Plan of the Health Department. "The expected numbers were worse, about a 20% decrease in diagnoses", he added.
For his part, Dr. Josep Tabernero, head of the Medical Oncology Service of the Vall d'Hebron University Hospital and director of the Vall d'Hebron Institute of Oncology (VHIO), explained that in Vall d'Hebron “we have had 9% fewer new visits for cancer”. In 2019, the hospital treated 5.810 new cases and in 2020, 5.282. The Oncology Day Hospital treatments have been maintained thanks to the ability to reinvent itself. "In addition to relocating spaces, reorganizing the service and creating safe circuits, we opened an oncology hospitalization unit in the Parc Sanitari Pere Virgili, which has helped to continue treating patients," he recalled.
Dr. Lucas Moreno, head of the Pediatric Oncology Service and principal investigator of the Translational Research group on Cancer in Childhood and Adolescence of the VHIR, explained that for his part they have not noticed a decrease in new cases due to the impact of the COVID-19. To guarantee one hundred percent of the assistance, the service has been reorganized, telemedicine has been increased and an effort has been made to maintain the pace of transplants. "We have done 32 bone marrow transplants", Dr. Moreno has highlighted. In addition, clinical trials have grown 70%.
The head of the Gynecology Service and head of the VHIR Biomedical Research Group in Gynecology, Dr. Antonio Gil-Moreno, has highlighted that the efforts of the professionals in times of COVID-19 have served to pass from 279 breast surgeries in 2019 to 317 this past year. "We noticed an impact in the first wave, but we have remade ourselves and we have lived the second and third waves normally".
The role of nurses has been key during this pandemic. Angeles Peñuelas, Oncology Supervisor at Vall d’Hebron, spoke on her behalf. "Our work ranges from prevention to palliative care, but we have adapted to accompany our patients at all times."
The voice of the patients has been put by Enric Barba, who has asked citizens not to stop going to the doctor out of fear. "Don't postpone a visit, your life is at stake", he said. He has also claimed that “cancer patients must be a priority when it comes to getting vaccinated against COVID-19 and being treated. Surgeries or diagnostic tests cannot be delayed because in cancer time is money”.
Dr. Enriqueta Felip, medical oncologist at Vall d'Hebron and Principal Investigator of the Group of Thoracic Tumors and Head and Neck Cancer of the Vall d'Hebron Institute of Oncology (VHIO) and Dr. Anna Santamaria Coordinator of the Oncology Area and head of the Urology Biomedical Research Group of the Vall d'Hebron Research Institute (VHIR) spoke about cancer research in times of COVID-19. In this sense, Dr. Felip has emphasized the fact that “we intensified the weekly meetings to follow up on the clinical studies. Communication was very important to manage the situation". In addition, Dr. Santamaria has indicated that, in 2020, the number of publications has been higher than in 2019. "In addition, we had to adapt the security protocols in the laboratories".
Future challenges in treatment and research
The second round table has addressed future challenges in cancer treatment and research. Dr. Elena Garralda, director of the Molecular Cancer Therapy Research Unit (UITM) - “Fundació la Caixa” and Principal Investigator of the VHIO's Early Clinical Development Drugs Group highlighted that “the future of clinical trials goes through developing personalized treatments".
Dr. Ana Vivancos, head of the Cancer Genomics Group at Vall d'Hebron Institute of Oncology (VHIO) has spoken about the new generation technology for the benefit of the adult patient. She also remarked that "the development of targeted drugs will allow a more precise and better attention to the patient".
Dr. Aroa Soriano, researcher at the Translational Research Group in Childhood Cancer of the Vall d'Hebron Research Institute (VHIR), has stressed that childhood tumours are not so frequent and are treated as rare diseases. "The challenge is to double the number of pediatric patients participating in trials by 2030".
Dr. Alena Gros, principal investigator of the Group of Immunotherapy and Immunology of Tumours of the Vall d'Hebron Institute of Oncology (VHIO), closed this second block, highlighting the latest advances in immunotherapy and new advanced therapies. "In immunotherapy, we are focused on stimulating an increasingly specific response of the lymphocytes, not only so that they react when something does not work, but also so that they learn to distinguish tumour cells from healthy cells".
Finally, the artist Markus, who has painted a work while the professionals were making their interventions, has handed the painting over to Dr. Tabernero. A blue butterfly on a green canvas. "A call to enjoy life".