ASGCT’s 2024 Annual Meeting Will Showcase the Field’s Rapid Advances

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Paula Cannon, PhD, the president elect of ASGCT, discussed things to look forward to at the upcoming Meeting that will be held from May 7 to 11, in Baltimore, MD.

Paula Cannon, PhD, the president elect of ASGCT and a distinguished professor of microbiology at Keck School of Medicine of USC

Paula Cannon, PhD
Credit: USC

This year, the American Society of Gene and Cell Therapy (ASGCT) Annual Meeting will be held from May 7 to 11 in Baltimore, Maryland. The Annual Meeting, the largest conference dedicated wholly to cell and gene therapy, brings together experts and other interested parties from across the field to share their research and network.

Ahead of the upcoming 2024 Meeting, CGTLive® reached out to Paula Cannon, PhD, the president-elect of ASGCT and a distinguished professor of microbiology at Keck School of Medicine of USC, to ask about what attendees can expect this year and what she personally is most looking forward to at the conference. Cannon also discussed some of the major advancements in general that have been taking place in the field since last year’s meeting.

CGTLive: For those who don't know, what is the ASGCT Annual Meeting, and what makes it unique?

Paula Cannon, PhD: The ASGCT Annual Meeting is the largest showcase meeting we do every year for members of the society. It's the world's largest cell and gene therapy meeting and it attracts people from across the spectrum of people working in this field; everything from basic scientists and trainees through people who work in industry, people who are running clinical trials, patient advocates, people interested in policy, [etc.] It's really a fantastic mixture of everybody that our field touches.

What can attendees of this year's meeting expect and look forward to?

At this meeting, I think we’re getting pretty good now at putting on a real mixture of things at the Annual Meeting. There’s something for everybody and things that I think often surprise people. We have some very targeted workshops and we have some sessions that are very focused on specific areas and developments, but then we also have broader sessions—we have a presidential symposium, we have a symposium for outstanding new investigators, and we have updates on clinical trials. I, personally, like those types of sessions because they have a little bit of everything. I'm often exposed to hearing about advances in areas that I wasn't aware of. I love getting those broad updates and really tapping into the excitement of what's happening in cell and gene therapy.

Is there anything that you are most looking forward to at the meeting this year?

We have fireside chats. This year, for example, we have Peter Marks, MD, PhD, [the director of the Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research at the FDA,] who's going to be chatting. I don't know if we're going to have a real fire, but you get the idea. I also like the fact that the meeting recognizes and awards honors to people who have made significant advances in our field. It's everything from people who we recognize as giants of the field who helped to found the field, to also people who have made a significant impact as just decent human beings and mentors, people who've had impacts in diversifying our field, people who've really stepped up and done exemplary service—sometimes this is kind of in the background. Of course, we also recognize people who've had an outstanding impact on our field, in terms of their science. One of the awards this year is going to David Liu, PhD, [the Richard Merkin Professor and director of the Merkin Institute of Transformative Technologies in Healthcare,] who's made phenomenal advances in taking CRISPR/Cas9 editing and moving it to the next phase. I really like the awards and how we select the awardees and hearing from them when they accept their awards.

Can you discuss some of the major themes/developments in the gene/cell therapy space, in general, as of late?

I think probably the most striking thing that's happened in the last 6 months was back in December, the FDA approved the first gene therapies for sickle cell disease, Casgevy and Lyfgenia. Casgevy is actually the first time the FDA has approved a gene therapy that uses CRISPR gene editing. These are really momentous milestones in the field and I think just reflect that we had sort of been in a lag phase and now we're absolutely in an exponential phase. I would expect to start seeing a lot more FDA approvals and drugs hitting the market in our area.

In addition to being excited about things that have reached the mature stage and have actually been FDA-approved, I also get excited about what's kind of bubbling up and where the sort of interest and focus is. One of the themes that we're really seeing this year is enhanced interest in the idea of doing gene therapy in vivo. We're seeing a lot of abstracts that have been submitted around ideas for targeting cells in vivo, delivering genetic engineering tools in vivo, and thus removing the need to take cells out of the body and engineer them ex vivo and put them back in—actually just doing all of this in vivo. It's still kind of a little bit of a moonshot in the field, but we've got some exciting talks that are going to be showcasing progress in that area.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

I would encourage people to come to the meeting. It's a fantastic, friendly, and very diverse meeting. It reflects both the roots of the field in basic science and academia, but also the huge interest from biotech and pharmaceutical companies now. We have a fantastic exhibit hall. I love just wandering through that and it's not just for the free pens and the beer. It really just gives you this very clear way of seeing the progress in the field and the different types of companies that are involved in this space. The ASGCT staff have a large presence there. They're super friendly and they can tell you everything we're doing to support basic research, clinical trials, about our advocacy, and about our impact on policy. There's a lot of that and then just really you see so many people who've made big advances in the field and they're very available and willing to talk to people. There are lots of opportunities to meet and remeet friends and to network. It's a fantastic meeting.

This transcript has been edited for clarity.

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