With in-person oncology conferences canceled due to the COVID pandemic, many cancer researchers have tuned in to virtual meetings, such as the two-part American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) conference and the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO).
Dana Farber/Harvard Cancer Center (DF/HCC), among other cancer centers, also made the leap and developed their own virtual lecture series, seminars and conferences. Going virtual has allowed centers to provide more participation, greater interaction and deeper collaborations among researchers.
The DF/HCC Connect:Science seminar series invites thought leaders in cancer biology, immune oncology and other fields to present to a global audience. Held bi-weekly, the series began almost immediately after in-person meetings were canceled due to COVID and are scheduled through the end of the year.
In August, the St. Jude Comprehensive Cancer Center launched The Science of Childhood Cancer (SOCC), which brings cancer researchers to the virtual stage to discuss immunotherapy, chromatin and transcription, targeted molecular therapies in pediatric cancer and childhood cancer survivorship. The series, which lasts a total of 15 weeks, provides an hour presentation, often with time for questions during the middle of the presentation and an informal extended discussion at the end.
“The SOCC seminar series was designed to provide a forum for dissemination of information specifically relevant to the biology, treatment and outcomes of childhood cancer,” said deputy director Charles Mullighan, MBBS, MD, who co-hosts the series with director Charles W.M. Roberts, MD, PhD. “All speakers are international leaders based at St. Jude or elsewhere at the cutting edge of research in these areas.”
St. Jude also developed virtual events targeted to specific interests, such as the Therapy of Leukemia invitation-only series connecting international cancer researchers.
At Case Comprehensive Cancer Center in Cleveland, leadership transitioned their existing interdisciplinary seminar series to a virtual format on March 20, 2020. The seminars, which address cutting-edge clinical, translational and basic research topics in cancer, are available to internal and external audiences. Those who tune in live can also earn continuing medical education (CME) credit.
Kelsey Kirsch, department coordinator at Case, said it took about two weeks to transition the in-person seminars to virtual, a process that began around the same time as people began working from home. Kirsch noted attendance jumped in the spring with the virtual platform, among other observations.
“I think I was most surprised at the number of people who logged onto the seminars when we first switched to virtual. It was a pretty significant bump in attendance for us, especially when our first virtual seminars were internal speakers,” she says.
Kirsch says attendees have remained engaged, even with the virtual platform. “We have always allowed for Q&A at the end of the seminar and that remains unchanged. People definitely seem to prefer to unmute themselves to ask questions and interact with the presenter rather than asking them through the chat.”
To drive awareness efforts, registrations and engagement, public relations and marketing staff provided support in terms of email marketing, paid and organic social media, search optimization and messaging for faculty to promote the seminars to their own connections. Digital efforts proved vital, especially as many researchers continued to work remotely in the early months of the pandemic.
“Because we’re working with a 15-week series, we’re able to use survey results, marketing data and webinar analytics to tweak and improve our efforts in reaching the right audience and providing the right type of post-webinar content, such as promoting the archived videos,” said Erin Seidler-Gass, senior director of public relations at St. Jude.