Highlights from

EHA 2019

European Hematology Association

Amsterdam 13-16 June 2019

Interview with EHA President Prof. Pieter Sonneveld

Interview with EHA President Prof. Pieter Sonneveld, MD, PhD, conducted on 24 June 2019 by Dr Rachel Giles

Can you tell us about the focus topics the EHA wanted to place in the spotlight this year?

The annual EHA meeting this year had two topics-in-focus highlighting haemoglobinopathies -diseases of red blood cells like thalassemia and sickle cell disease- and immune therapy of haematologic diseases. There are several new immune therapies like antibodies but also drugs that influence immune competent cells like the checkpoint inhibitors. Last but not least the cellular therapies like CAR T cell therapies. Those main approaches were highlighted during the conference across several disease domains.

What did you consider some of the promising developments that were featured at EHA2019?

Very many promising studies were presented at the Plenary sessions and at the Presidential Symposium. Although many of the talks presented exciting data, I would like to mention two talks that were particularly exciting. Firstly, the use of combination therapy venetoclax with obinutuzumab for a fixed duration of time in elderly patients with chronic lymphocytic leukaemia demonstrated that this is a very competent combination. Secondly, another breakthrough talk I would like to highlight was the use of new drugs in sickle cell disease which increased the haemoglobin content of the cells and thereby reduced symptoms in patients with this disease.

What are the challenges for the upcoming year in this field?

In a much wider sense, I would like to mention that EHA is committed to education, and promotes basic, translational and clinical research in haematology with the aim to stimulate new partnerships. As the largest haematology professional association in Europe, the EHA has the largest impact on education and communication of topics in haematology. In addition, the EHA held the 3rd European Hematology Exam on-site during the 24th EHA Congress in Amsterdam, and held parallel exams in Greece, Portugal, Spain, Switzerland and Turkey at the same moment. This exam is an important step in the harmonisation of haematology training/education in Europe, and will support professional mobility, and I anticipate that this will be expanded over the next several years.

Another challenge I think we need to address is the high cost of the novel drugs and therapies. Access and availability will be restricted as a consequence, and these options will not be available to many patients, especially in lesser developed countries. The EHA takes this task seriously to try and make all these drugs and treatments available, also to patients in developing countries. We also try to approach this by working together with many other organisations in the European Community to highlight the importance of haematology; for example, we work with laboratory organisations, patient organisations and many others to facilitate the process.

You are passing on the EHA Presidency; what was your experience and what wisdom do you pass on to your successor?

The next EHA President will be Prof. John Gribben from London, UK. Over the past two years during my Presidency, I have been able to expand many activities of the EHA both in the organisation itself but also in the countries where the EHA is active in Europe and beyond. I am pleased to have been able to increase the connection of the EHA with the scientific communities in haematology throughout Europe via the scientific working groups. Of course these are just one or two of the many activities I have been involved with, but I would like to highlight those. To my successor I would say: keep on supporting the ongoing scientific and clinical collaborations as well as our various efforts in education, and the EHA will continue to grow and expand and increase its relevance in the haematology world.

Biography

Prof. Pieter Sonneveld, MD, PhD serves as Head of the Department of Hematology at the Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. Prof. Sonneveld was a founder of the European Myeloma Network and serves as its Chairman. He serves on the scientific advisory boards of the International Myeloma Foundation, the International Myeloma Working Group and the International Myeloma Society.

Article image: Medicom

The content and interpretation of these conference highlights are the views and comments of the speakers/authors.