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A year of breakthroughs at ESMO as the big data revolution transforms cancer research talent

ESMO, Europe’s most important cancer congress concluded this week with a record breaking attendance of over 20,000 people.  The buzz, not for the first time, was about immuno-oncology. But this year was different – we really seem to have arrived at a tipping point with promising clinical data from many pharma companies and researchers catching the eye. With data from 47 late-breaking trials there was good news for doctors and patients for many cancers where treatment options have long been lagging, especially renal cell carcinoma, ovarian and lung cancer, sarcomas and melanoma.

A truly global ESMO

Like many of the delegates, we were there to become better informed about this fast moving field. We were struck by how global ESMO has become with the US, Japan and China in the top 10 contributing countries alongside the Europeans. There was a vibrant atmosphere and the passion of the delegates from cancer research institutions, academia and pharma was pervasive.

Targeted therapies and personalised medicine also made a good showing as the use of biomarkers for predicting response and outcomes was repeatedly demonstrated. But it was about more than data. Patients’ quality of life and going beyond survival were included in the Presidential Symposium and the Patient Advocacy Track was also hugely successful.

Great talent, but how to avoid datageddon

Underpinning all this promise and success was the abundance of talent present at the conference. Passion, skills, behaviours and expertise combined to create the kind of promise that pervaded the congress. But there were new skills here too and it’s vital to recognise that change is happening fast.

One stand-out example. Big data is driving the industry to rely on people who are more likely to be mathematicians than biologists. Mathematical techniques that were developed for physics are now being applied to biology as the big data revolution transforms medical science and ushers in a new era of bioinformatics. Just one way that understanding the evolution of medical research and future-proofing talent searches will help save patients’ lives and progress cancer research.

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