ASGCT 2020: conference highlights

Written by Freya Leask

In this report, I share my key takeaways from the first virtual meeting of the American Society for Gene & Cell Therapy.

After 4 days of virtual seminars, Q&As and science, the first virtual meeting of the American Society of Gene & Cell Therapy (ASGCT; May 12-15) has closed. As I’m sure was the case for many people, I was very disappointed not to be winging my way to Boston; after the challenges of the meeting simply being too big for its venue last year, I was excited to see how the meeting would compare when it had more room to stretch its wings. 

However, there were some benefits to the virtual format; a drastically shorter and cheaper travel time, as demonstrated by Despoina Mademtzoglou, could make attending or presenting far more accessible to those with limit budgets, mobility and time. 

I also enjoying having time to process the talks; watching the talks from the comfort of my own home allowed me to mute sessions or even have another window open to check my understanding of a topic. Whilst I missed being able to duck into talks until I found one I liked, or that had the most excitement in the room, I left talks with a better appreciation of their subjects and without feeling overwhelmed as is sometimes the case (particularly with the sea of people in the poster sessions!). 

But what about the science? Presenters certainly didn’t let the virtual format hold them back. Noteworthy talks included a rousing presentation from Carl June (University of Pennsylvania, PA, USA) to Michael Sadelain’s (Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, NY, USA) fascinating talk on the potential of CAR-T cells against senescence, which could hope promise in treating the effects of aging.  

As expected, a key theme of this year’s meeting was focused around expanding manufacturing capacity and ensuring basic research developments were scalable and translatable. 

On the subject of basic research, there was lots of investigation around AAV biology. Potential differences in AAV production has implications in stability, immunogenicity and expression, amongst other things, so a more complete understanding of their intricacies is important. 

The format wasn’t perfect, however; in scenes reminiscent of last year’s meeting, where attendees were queuing outside almost every room, the virtual system sometimes struggled to cope with so many people joining at a similar time. I also didn’t attend any of the networking events, so I’d be interested to hear from any attendees how successful ‘virtual’ networking was. 

Overall, an enjoyable meeting and a fine example of how the move to virtual can actually improve a meeting. I am feeling a lot more enthusiastic about my next virtual conference and am looking forward to the first published papers.


Want more? Read our ASGCT 2020 abstract highlights: