This year, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, ASCO launched its first 100% virtual meeting platform. Given that ASCO is the largest annual oncology meeting in the world, the organization decided it was imperative to prioritize the dissemination of critical updates on scientific advances in cancer treatments, allowing its members online access to presentations they would normally travel to Chicago to see.

It was easy to anticipate how oral sessions and poster presentations would take place in a virtual format. However, it was difficult to know what sort of sponsorship platforms or collaborative environments would be made available in lieu of an exhibit hall, where one-on-one engagement has traditionally been a core part of an attendee’s experience.

ASCO ultimately rolled out the parameters for virtual exhibits: a landing page with a list of corporate logos, with each sponsor provided a preformatted page that included space for a hero image, descriptive text, embedded videos and externally driving links.

Virtual Exhibits and sample Platinum Exhibit Page provided by ASCO

ASCO’s approach to virtual exhibits gave companies only limited opportunities to build new relationships and networks. This meant companies would have to go well beyond the ASCO tool to create their own immersive online hubs.

Industry was up to the task, experimenting with a number of approaches. The web experiences developed by exhibitors fell into three main categories:

  • Congress portals
  • Interactive exhibit booth renderings
  • Links to existing sites or PDF resources

A few exhibitors, including Eisai Oncology and Pfizer Oncology, combined approaches.

So, what worked and what didn’t? Time (and analytics) will tell what kind of traction these promotional efforts garnered. In the meantime, it’s worth examining how well the exhibitors pivoted from a live experiential UX approach to a web UX approach.

Well-designed congress portals were among the best examples of successful adaptation.

Novartis ASCO congress portal, desktop and mobile

Novartis, BeiGene and Eisai, for example, drove visitors to an online environment that made clear statements about their commitments and key messages, while prioritizing user experience for both desktop and mobile.

As a large percentage of virtual congress material will be accessed by mobile devices,  responsiveness, legibility and mobile-user-friendliness are critical for a successful solution.  ­

BeiGene congress portal included links to abstracts and poster presentations

Several companies, including Advanced Accelerator Applications, opted to create a virtual booth – i.e., a rendering of an exhibit booth, either static or navigable, with hotspots around key content areas.

Advanced Accelerator Applications virtual booth, desktop and mobile

Most virtual booths had separate promotional and medical experiences, with hotspots driving to either videos, light-box pop-up info, or downloadable PDFs. In a few instances, exhibitors leveraged existing interactive experiences from their booth, such as quizzes.

While virtual booths initially sound like the most logical approach (after all, this is a virtual meeting with virtual exhibits), they pose difficult UX challenges (e.g., load time, message legibility and mobile adaptation).

The third approach taken by exhibitors was to simply use the page provided by ASCO to post links to existing websites and downloadable PDFs.

Merck and AstraZeneca opted to use the ASCO-provided page to drive traffic to existing sites or resources rather than develop bespoke corporate congress portals

This more conservative approach is understandable, given that we don’t yet know how effective ASCO’s platform is in driving visitors to company pages. Any user would require a minimum of three clicks to land on an exhibitor-developed online environment – not exactly the best scenario for minimizing bounce rate.

It is likely that virtual congresses are going to be around for a while, if not indefinitely. ASCO was a great opportunity to experiment and better understand what it really means to “go virtual.” Companies that invested resources upfront will likely need to do less scrambling later for the numerous future virtual congresses to come.

One of the main lessons learned from ASCO 2020 is that virtual exhibiting bears little resemblance to traditional physical exhibiting. The rules of engagement are different. What drives someone to enter a booth from the aisle is different than what motivates a user to click through and engage with a website. The core principles of web interaction are simply different than those of physical experiential design.

We expect that, moving forward, congress organizers will apply learnings from these early days to improve the engagement platforms for their exhibitors and sponsors, while exhibitors will be looking to push the envelope on new platforms of virtual engagement that fulfill their needs for customer engagement, awareness and education.

Read more of our ASCO 2020 content.

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The idea of moving scientific and medical conversation online is not a new concept. Indeed, when the online world began to open to a broader swath of people in the early 1990s, one of the first uses brought people together around various health topics.

But in the new COVID-19 era, consuming scientific and medical data virtually is not a novelty. It’s not even one of many options for accessing information: it’s become the only way. With major medical congresses, such as ASCO 2020, going completely virtual, it’s critical that we re-think not only the end of the process – the presentation or the publication – but indeed the entire span of how we think and talk about research.

It means understanding usability, optimizing for data-sharing, and analyzing each decision and each channel to make sure that the right stakeholders are getting the right information.

Planning for the Future Now

The best way to ensure virtual dissemination of data is to plan from the beginning!

During the publication planning process, we should incorporate virtual distribution into the plan for seminal data releases as they are developed for both congress presentations and more finalized manuscripts.

A successful publication plan will consider secondary congresses with unique, specialized audiences to maximize the reach of the data to all interested clinician types, payers, and patients. Important considerations can include how the timelines for development may be impacted, what additional resources (graphic design, digital expertise, IT) may be needed, and which key stakeholders may need to provide feedback.

Virtual—What Does it Mean?

The concept of virtual can mean a lot of things to a lot of different folks, so it’s critical not to use the word as shorthand or stay at a superficial level. The same goes for “digital.” Some people associate those concepts with social media while others might think of any electronic communication as falling into those buckets.

Virtual data dissemination, done right, is about multiple channels, many with significant overlap. For every effort, we need to specify what those channels might be,  including webinars, social media, email, PDFs, websites (eg, company, congress, database), pre-print libraries, for starters. And we need to be specific about how we can use them to highlight the right virtual data, at the right time, to the right audience.

Speaking of the right audience, it is important to think about how doctors, patients, and pharma companies are viewing and consuming virtual data, with the days of only abstracts, congress booths, congress posters/presentations, and manuscripts a bygone era.  So, how can we leverage virtual dissemination of data to extend the reach and life of these traditional channels, especially in the new era of virtual congresses?

  • Our Old Friend, the QR Code! In years past, QR codes in the corner of a poster would take the view to a website or link to the poster PDF. That, in the virtual and digital world, was always redundant and the subject of some mockery. But in the new normal, there is potential here. What if scanning our QR codes linked us out to a mini, poster-specific website that included more interactive content, such as a podcast author narration of the poster, a video abstract, an interactive/animated mechanism of action, a graphical abstract, an infographic, a lay summary, and an expert video commentary? Couple the virtual extenders with responsive web design, and then, the data can be viewed properly on a myriad of different devices!
  • Sharing is Caring. Another important consideration for virtual data dissemination is how the data will be shared through different channels after its initial release. By its very nature, virtual data are more enduring once shared. Take the graphical abstract mentioned above—we should consider how we optimize it for shareability across multiple platforms (e.g., email, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, TikTok, YouTube) wherever we and our audiences my share it.
  • Analytics to Measure … With extension of data from the traditional formats into the virtual realm, we can embrace the expansion of our metrics to include so much more than a journal impact factor! Moving into the virtual space allows us measure things, such as number of site hits, shares, time spent viewing data, location of viewer, and device type.
  • … And Analytics to Manage. Of course, having metrics for metrics sake doesn’t really help anyone. Deriving insights from these metrics with appropriate healthcare analytics is key to understanding how virtual data dissemination can be optimized for the future. For example, where are the data being shared (e.g., platform), how are the data being shared over time (e.g., just around a congress), and what parts of the data are being viewed and for how long (e.g., survival vs safety) can continually inform how to best optimize virtual data dissemination.

So while COVID-19 may be forcing us to adapt, dissemination through virtual channels can help maximize the reach and impact of medical and scientific data.

Read more of our ASCO 2020 content.

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This year’s American Society of Clinical Oncology’s (ASCO) Annual Meeting was already destined to be different because of COVID-19, but nationwide protests after the death of George Floyd, an unarmed African American man, at the hands of police in Minneapolis added another dimension to the conversation.

Attendees at the ASCO virtual conference shared thoughts and personal stories about racial injustice. However, discussing cancer on social media at this moment in time was questioned by some.

Huge contrast in twitter feeds this morning. The oncology cheerleading doesn’t feel right,” Dr. Deanna Attai wrote on May 30. Dr. Cary Gross asked whether ASCO would be issuing a statement “calling out racism, committing to equity?

Conversations during the three-day meeting did indeed include health equity. Other major themes included the intersection between cancer and COVID-19; several promising therapies; and the need to work together to fight cancer – for all people.

Health Equity

Incoming ASCO President Lori J. Pierce, M.D., announced in a May 25 interview that her theme for the year would be “Equity. Every patient. Every day. Everywhere.” She said she chose to highlight the issue “because health care equity is at the forefront of everything we do at ASCO.”

More than 200 ASCO sessions or posters delved into the issues of racial inequity and access to care, according to analytics we gathered from a search on “disparities” and “diversity” in the meeting content. One such session pointed to significant disparities in the treatment of early-stage anal cancer, a highly treatable cancer; a large study showed African Americans did not get treated as soon and had worse overall survival rates than white people. Another session focused on the relative lack of palliative care provided to people of color.


The novel coronavirus pandemic spurred a flurry of new research and discussion. COVID-19 patients with cancer are at an increased risk of dying within a month, according to one study. HCPs were intrigued by the impact of hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin on mortality among cancer patients with COVID-19. And because chemotherapy within three months prior to a COVID-19 diagnosis is associated with higher mortality among thoracic cancer patients, another study showed, HCPs noted they are going to be careful initiating chemotherapy treatments of COVID-19 in cancer patient during the pandemic.

Promising Therapies

Lung cancer research sparked the most conversation, driven by several clinical data virtual presentations focused on specific subpopulations, including patients with KRAS and HER2. A late-breaking abstract featuring AstraZeneca’s ADAURA trial evaluating Tagrisso in non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) drew attention given the overwhelmingly positive results.

In other cancers, notable research included early data on a number of potentially promising therapies, including:

 Working Together

We were encouraged to see the oncology community come together for the greater good.

The most-shared link on social media throughout the meeting was for Conquer Cancer – the ASCO Foundation, which provides support for cancer care teams and patients during and after the pandemic.

As the conference concluded Sunday amid continued cries for racial justice, the oncology community was left with this challenge: To hold ourselves accountable to advance the ideal of health equality and participate in these vital discussions. We need greater diversity in the ranks of health care providers and researchers – both in oncology and other areas of medicine – and we need to work toward health care access for every American.

Read more of our ASCO 2020 content.

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With the impact of COVID-19, virtual congresses have exploded. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Although a virtual meeting has a more limited schedule over fewer days than an in-person meeting, it will still offer a wealth of important information and insights from speakers.

The American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) announced in April that it would be holding its annual meeting virtually from May 29 to 31. For some of us, it will be the first time in many, many years that we skip the annual pilgrimage to Chicago. And while virtual congresses are an adjustment, we believe that a little planning and knowledge will help registered attendees obtain the most out of their experience.

What’s the plan, Stan?

Planning Ahead: Despite the more limited schedule, it is still important that attendees set aside time to thoroughly review the complete program ahead of the meeting.

To that end, you can search the ASCO online program by keyword (e.g., “lung oral”) or filter by “Track” or “Type” to narrow your results. Outside of the scientific program, you can set up networking events and attend Virtual Exhibits and Ancillary Educational Events.

Scientific Exchange: Content will be available online in two formats: on-demand and broadcast. On-demand sessions will be available starting Friday at 8:00 a.m. ET, including oral, poster and poster discussion sessions, as well as track-based Clinical Science Symposia.

Scheduled live broadcasts will be held on Saturday and Sunday, with a live chat feature that allows attendees to connect, pose questions and discuss the science. These sessions should be available in the ASCO Meeting Library two hours after the presentations.

As for abstracts, they are already available online and can be downloaded by specific cancer type (e.g., NSCLC, breast cancer, ovarian cancer, etc.). Late-breaking abstracts will be released in the ASCO Meeting Library on Thursday.

The ASCO Daily News will cover practice-changing abstracts and will be available through email alerts, on the ASCO daily news website, and available as a podcast through iTunes or Google Play.

Industry Showcase: Industry partners will be able to showcase their products in a number of ways. Virtual Exhibits will launch on Friday at the same time as the on-demand content goes live and will be available online through the end of August. There, attendees will be able to participate in virtual events presented by industry leaders at the Industry Expert Theater, as well as browse exhibits. Several CME-accredited, industry-sponsored Ancillary Educational Events that require advance registration will also be offered. 

What’s the challenge? 

Interactions and Distractions: As everything is virtual and available online after the meeting, there will be a temptation to schedule the experience around our lives. However, as with all virtual meetings, setting aside protected time to fully immerse in the virtual ASCO experience will help attendees engage deeply.

Networking in the Exhibition Space: While some of us are lamenting the loss of steps from hiking across the convention center, it is still possible to view the creativity of the Virtual Exhibits and set up virtual meetings through the ASCO online portal. Attendees can use the “Virtual Networking” or “Find a Colleague” platform to connect with other attendees, ASCO staff, and industry representatives. Once you have found someone to connect with, you can either chat one-on-one or set up a video meeting.

Scientific Exchange: Because so much of the program will be on-demand with no opportunities for interaction with the presenters, catching up with abstract authors will be challenging. Reaching out through Virtual Networking is one opportunity to chat. It is also possible to set up/join group chats during presentations through a third-party platform to create a “viewing party” and discuss perspectives. Finally, other meetings (e.g., advisory boards, steering committees, etc.) can be set up around the conference, but take note of the blackout times that coincide with the broadcast hours, as well as attendees’ time zones.

We know that oncologists and researchers are increasingly relying on social media, especially Twitter, to discuss science in the absence of live meetings, and we expect that to be the same at #ASCO20.

With attendees scattered around the globe, connections with others are going to look different and exist on different platforms. But we’re fortunate to have the tools to still generate these connections because they are certainly still worth having—especially in an unprecedented moment like this. We are looking forward to ASCO 2020 and everything it has to virtually offer!

Contributions to this article were made by Sarah Frazer, Brian Haas, and Jared Wels of W2O.  

Read more of our ASCO 2020 content.

Interested in learning more about W2O? Check out our About or Healthcare pages.