By Dr. Navneet Majhail, ASTCT President
Thank you for the tremendous response to my first column as ASTCT President. I was impressed by the number of people who actually read it. The feedback was mostly positive – well, the only complaint was that I did not share a photo of Caesar! I did get a lot of helpful advice. And yes, I have started eating my veggies!!
The first month has been a blur, and as I settle down in this role, I have noticed that I have gone into an introspection mode – I ponder over things – from high-level existential stuff to why am I including three references to support transplant for blastic plasmacytoid dendritic cell neoplasm in my Epic note. Some people tell me this is natural rewiring of the brain for a year so that I can think presidentially, while others suspect I am mired deep in mid-life crisis. Irrespective, I have developed an increasing appreciation of how fortunate I am that I ended up becoming a transplanter and cell therapist.
As I compose this column, two holiday cards on my desk catch my attention – one is from a patient who is many years out with a photo of her now 10- and 12-year-old children, and a second from the wife of a patient who passed away around the same time the first patient got her transplant. They encapsulate the breadth of how, regardless of outcomes, what we do in this field is very special.
What were some of the big things that our society was up to in March? We are saddling up to launch our new society name and logo in conjunction with our strategic plan. We already have a new website domain name (www.astct.org) and Twitter handle (@ASTCT). We successfully tested the substantial investment that the society has made in policy and advocacy in responding to the CMS decision memo for CAR-T cell therapy. It is critical that we ensure access and coverage for Medicare patients, and I will encourage you to take a moment to read the letter that was submitted by ASTCT.
How thoughtfully and quickly we were able to respond to this issue reinforces the right decision we made in establishing our new Government Relations committee under the stewardship of Drs. Dianna Howard and Parmeswaran Hari, with support from our consultants Erika Miller and Jugna Shah. This also gave us the opportunity to throw our new Director of Policy, Alycia Maloney, in the deep end of the pool (and she does know how to swim – without support!). We have also set up two task forces – one will take a deep dive into what the society offers to trainees and junior faculty and what we can offer more to invest in their success. Drs. Surbhi Sidana and Melody Smith have agreed to lead this effort and will pull in “young blood” that represents the breadth of our society membership. The second will focus on transplantation for autoimmune diseases – there is robust data supporting the efficacy of autologous transplantation for scleroderma and multiple sclerosis and the task force assembled under the leadership of Drs. Keith Sullivan and George Georges will help the society think through how it can support broader adoption of these newer indications for transplant.
Our ASTCT team exhibited at #EBMT19 meeting and they did not miss any opportunity to advertise our new name and make new connections. I do want to congratulate EBMT President Prof Nicolaus Kroger and congress Co-Presidents Profs Thomas Klingebiel and Peter Bader for a very successful, well organized and scientifically rich meeting. The meeting was a good reminder of the international and collaborative nature of our field. A bonus for me was that I finally got to savor the original Schweineschnitzel. On a side note, the ASTCT and the EBMT have started conversations to further strengthen our relationships and you will hear more about joint initiatives in the future.
Next, let me share some Marie Kondo moments of my presidency thus far - that is, moments that have brought me joy. First was a trip to our ASTCT headquarters in Chicago. We had a meeting with our CIBMTR colleagues for a high-level debrief of the TCT meetings. We were able to revel in success of Houston for a very short time and we are already diving into planning for Orlando. We read each and every comment from the feedback survey, including the need for a larger dance floor for the meeting reception which has been duly noted. Our 2020 meeting is going to be the best one ever, thanks to the spectacular program that #TCTM20 Scientific Organizing Committee co-chairs Drs Katy Rezvani and Mary Flowers are spearheading. During that visit I also had a chance to sit down with our ASTCT team. They had conducted a retreat the day before and it will suffice to say that I was blown away by their enthusiasm and ideas.
Second is the dedication I see every day from our members who are volunteering their time and effort to the society. Your engagement is infectious and such a morale booster. It is always refreshing to get an email with an idea or feedback to make the society more relevant to what you do. Third was to see the incredible response we received for the inaugural ASTCT’s Leadership Course. We received ~50 applications, and our review committee has selected 12 mid-career physicians and administrators who will start this yearlong immersive program with a 1 ½ day meeting in Chicago in May. All applicants were highly accomplished, but we had to limit the size of our class to keep this experience interactive and intimate. But this process did highlight the need for more education in this area and we will look at more opportunities for the same.
That’s all folks! My ask for this month – please renew your membership if you have not already done so for 2019. And please ask your colleagues at your respective centers, both physicians and non-physicians, if they are ASTCT members – if they are not, encourage them to sign up.