Prize Winners at the ESMO Annual Meeting 2016

This year’s ESMO congress was hosted in the beautiful city of Copenhagen, Denmark. A city admired for being simultaneously traditional and modern, and certainly encapsulating the spirit of ESMO, where professionals from across the world can meet to exchange the details of up-to-the-minute research and fresh new ideas about best practice with the same goal each time: to improve not only the quality of treatment but of patient care for populations across the world.

The congress programme encapsulated both scientific and educational sessions, meaning that there was something to inspire each and every participant, from students right up to the most experienced clinicians. In their programme Welcome, the organising committee for ESMO acknowledged the hard work of the Congress Officers who they believed would ‘further reinforce the reputation of ESMO Congress as the reference meeting for oncology professionals world-wide.’

As always, several esteemed peers and colleagues were recognised for their hard work and commitment to oncological research in the form of the ESMO Awards. The ESMO Awards celebrate outstanding individuals in the field who have contributed extraordinary research findings and ensured the continued progress in our understanding of, and treatments for, medical oncology. The awards celebrate individuals who are both European and internationally renowned. They include the ESMO Award, the ESMO Lifetime Achievement Award, the Hamilton Fairley Award, and the ESMO Women for Oncology Award. The awards are decided by the ESMO Fellowship and Award Committee, chaired by Christoph Zielinski, Austria. The committee are dedicated to selecting the very best candidates not only for awards recognising outstanding achievement in the field but also to assist in career development for the most promising young scientists in the form of scholarships. This year, the esteemed individuals selected for the awards were: Alberto Sobrero, Richard Peto, Carlos Caldas, and Sumitra Thongprasert.

This year’s recipient of the ESMO award was Alberto Sobrero, Italy. This award was established in 1985 to recognise an individual who has made an outstanding contribution to medical oncology and its development in the European and/or international community, which Sobrero certainly has. Since achieving his medical degree in 1978 at the University of Genova, Genoa, Italy, Sobrero’s career has seen him work in both Europe and America as a leading expert in the field of gastrointestinal cancers.  Since 2001, he has worked as the Head of the Medical Oncology Unit at IRCCS San Martino IST in Genova, Italy, following his post as Associate Professor in Medical Oncology at the University of Florence, Florence, Italy. In addition to these prestigious positions, Sobrero has also co-authored over 200 papers as well as being the Chairman of the Protocol Review Committee of the European Organisation for Research and Treatment of Cancer (EORTC), demonstrating his commitment to the improvement of the design and interpretation of clinical trials studying oncology. Commenting, Sobrero explained “One always wonders if he is doing well in his professional life: the ESMO Award is certainly the best answer to this questioning,” adding “I really felt surprised at receiving this award: being chosen by peers is very gratifying.”

The second award at this year’s congress was the ESMO Lifetime Achievement Award, this year bestowed upon Sir Richard Peto, UK, for his and his colleagues’ tireless work in the study of breast cancer treatment and risk factors. Peto’s work has contributed substantially to our understanding of the risk factors of smoking as well as the benefits that are incurred via smoking cessation. Indeed, it is this research that earned him a knighthood from Queen Elizabeth II for being the first to describe the expected consequences of smoking by the end of this century. Peto and colleagues have also drastically improved our understanding of the role of blood lipids, blood pressure, and smoking in premature death. Peto currently works as a Professor of Medical Statistics and Epidemiology at the Nuffield Department of Population Health (NDPH) at the University of Oxford, Oxford, UK. He was made a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1989 in recognition of meta-analyses of randomised trials of treatments for breast cancer and for vascular disease. Zielinski commented of the award: “Prof Richard Peto has contributed constantly over the years to the prevention of cancer and to the improvement of breast cancer treatment in Europe and the world. It is, therefore, why the ESMO Fellowships and Awards Committee has unanimously voted for Richard Peto to be the recipient of the ESMO Lifetime Achievement Award 2016.”

The Hamilton Fairley Award commemorates one of medical oncology’s founding fathers here in Europe. Recipients have earned an international reputation for outstanding achievements in cancer science and clinical or translational research. This year, the award went to Carlos Caldas, UK, for his work redefining the molecular taxonomy of breast cancer as well as the discovery of a new role for microRNAs as modulators of the immune system in a number of breast cancers. In his most recent work, Caldas and his team have been developing the use of patient-derived tumour explants as a model system for breast cancer. Caldas currently works as Professor of Cancer Medicine at the University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK and is also Head of the Breast Cancer Functional Genomics Laboratory at the Cancer Research UK Cambridge Institute. In a statement, Caldas thanked current and past members of his study group, colleagues at the Cambridge Cancer Centre, and Cancer Research UK for their support which allowed him to achieve what he has. Zielinski commended the outstanding contributions of Caldas in a statement, explaining: “Prof Carlos Caldas has excelled in molecular analyses and its implications in breast cancer where he has analysed an abundance of genomic and transcriptomic landscapes leading to a vastly ameliorated insight into the biology of the disease.”

The final award of the congress was the ESMO Women for Oncology award, recognising an individual’s efforts towards improving prospects for the female oncology workforce. The ESMO Women for Oncology initiative was developed in 2013 to remedy the under-representation of women in oncology and particularly in leadership positions within the field. Speaking in 2015 on receipt of her award of that year, Prof Enriqueta Felip explained: “This award is a way to highlight the importance of the role of women in academic oncology.” Gender inequality in the field is clearly a prominent issue for many oncologists, and one that must be addressed in order to ensure the highest quality of research and teaching, and to ensure the continued progress in understanding the many diseases that we are currently studying. An online survey was carried out this year to assess perceptions of the female workforce in oncology, the results of which were presented by Prof Solange Peters, University of Lausanne, Lausanne, Switzerland. Respondents of the survey indicated that gender is in fact an important factor in working life for oncologists, with 27% of female respondents believing that their gender had significantly impacted their career, compared to 14% of male respondents. It was found that although most respondents worked in teams with a female majority, 64% of those teams were led by a male colleague. Discussing the results, Prof Edith Perez, Mayo Clinic, USA, commented that gender inequality is an important global issue and one that is currently receiving much attention in science. She said she is pleased to see a good balance of male and female presenters at the ESMO Congress.

The recipient of the newest award, ESMO Women for Oncology, was Prof Sumitra Thongprasert, Emeritus Professor at the Faculty of Medicine, Chiang Mai University, and Director of the Center of Excellence in Cancer at Bangkok Hospital Chiang Mai, Thailand. Prof Thongprasert has been a pre-eminent figure in the world of oncology for many years, serving on the board of directors for the International Association for the Study of Lung Cancer (IASLC), and as Chairperson of the Asia Pacific Lung Cancer Conference in May 2016. She commented: “The award is further impetus to strive towards contributing something meaningful to ESMO and especially to women oncologists. I would like to thank the ESMO Board for giving me the opportunity to be part of ESMO’s work, initially as a member of the Developing Country Task Force, and later as the ESMO Far East representative. I have learned so much from my involvement with the organisation.”

The European Medical Journal congratulates all of this year’s winners on their well-deserved awards. It is certainly inspiring to celebrate the fantastic achievements of the winners who are ensuring a bright future for oncology patients across the world. We look forward to reporting on the outstanding achievements of next year’s winners at ESMO 2017.

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