Burris: United With Our Patients, We Do Accelerate Progress Together


"Our patients are the reasons we do what we do. They are the reason we do the work," said outgoing ASCO President Howard A. “Skip” Burris III, MD, FASCO, FACP, during his opening address on the second day of this year’s American Society of Clinical Oncology conference.

Virtual for the first time ever, the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) kicked off its second day with an address from its outgoing President Howard A. “Skip” Burris III, MD, FASCO, FACP, who will next assume the position of chair of ASCO’s Board of Directors.

“Our patients are the reasons we do what we do. They are the reason we do the work. It’s been a joy for me to have such a diverse job,” said Burris, who is also president of clinical operations, chief medical officer, and executive director of drug development at Sarah Cannon Research Institute and a member of the board of directors of Conquer Cancer, the ASCO Foundation.

Burris, a 1981 graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point who served with the Army Corps of Engineers, chose as the theme for his year-long presidential term, “Unite and Conquer: Accelerating Progress Together,” noting that although it may be 1 theme, it actually encompasses 2 goals:

  1. Unite and conquer
  2. Accelerating progress together.

These goals can be addressed, and accomplished, through a multidisciplinary team approach to cancer care which Burris views as an essential part to every patient’s spectrum of care, with the patient remaining at the center. It matches well with the ASCO mission, which is conquering cancer through the latest research and education, as well as promoting the importance of quality patient care. He returned to it time and again, sharing highlights from the past year while noting how far the field of oncology still has to go to improve the quality of cancer care through education, research, and advocacy—principles that serve as ASCO’s foundation.

“We’ve had advancements, but we need to go faster,” he pointed out, stressing the importance of advancing therapies for better patient outcomes by addressing obstacles to their care. “Access to care, access to clinical trials, and access to information is really key.”

He highlighted ASCO CancerLinQ, an initiative that is aggregating big data from clinicians across the country, analyzing the findings, and providing access to it for the entire cancer community, as well as ASCO’s push to transform care delivery, where he broached an issue that continues to trouble many: patients’ inability to access care because of financial reasons. ASCO is helping to address this barrier to health care through its Patient Centered Oncology Payment Program, an alternative payment model meant to ensure access to high-quality and high-value care.

He noted how last fall ASCO volunteers held more than 160 meetings, advocating Congress on behalf of the Bipartisan Clinical Treatment Act, which would require Medicaid to cover the routine costs that come with being in a clinical trial, including doctor visits and lab studies. The act is meant to open up patient access to treatment advances, especially underrepresented minorities. It would be a victory for ASCO and patients with cancer, Burris stressed.

Burris noted how his 30-plus years as a clinical researcher, clinical oncologist, leader of people—there are over 1000 now at Sarah Cannon—military experience, and dual passions of cancer drug development and phase 1 clinical trials have opened his eyes to a lot that is going on around both the country and the world. It’s given him a great sense of faith and confidence in the future of cancer care to see everyone pulling together to try to improve cancer care.

“We are strongest together. We are united in our mission to reduce the global burden of cancer,” he said. “We need all of you serving on our committees and task forces, connecting and collaborating, to solve the complex problems of cancer care. Together we are a powerhouse.”

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