Guillermo Garcia-Manero, MD, the 2023 Society of Hematologic Oncology (SOHO) President-Elect, reflects on his role within the Society, what sets the SOHO Annual Meeting apart, and what he hopes to accomplish during his tenure as president.
What is your role within SOHO, and how has SOHO evolved over the years? I’ve been involved with SOHO as long as I’ve been on the faculty in the Department of Leukemia at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. I’m not someone who plans or thinks, “In five years, I want to be the president of SOHO.” Often, opportunities happen unexpectedly, so when I was nominated for the position, I said, “Yes, absolutely, I would love to do this.” I’m honored that I was selected.
Over time, my journey as an academic physician and the development of SOHO—particularly the Annual Meeting—have evolved organically. I’ve seen SOHO meetings grow from smaller gatherings that covered a single disease state to the current, comprehensive SOHO Annual Meeting. In the beginning, meetings focused on acute myeloid leukemia (AML). Then we asked ourselves, “Why are we only discussing leukemia?” That’s when we began expanding to incorporate myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS) and eventually other hematologic malignancies.
As Chief of the Section of Myelodysplastic Syndromes and Chronic Myelomonocytic Leukemia at the MD Anderson Cancer Center, I’ve been involved with the SOHO Education Committee for many years, which has allowed me to contribute significantly to the Society. In collaboration with the committee, I’ve organized the MDS sessions for the annual meeting, helping to select the agenda and speakers. This ongoing involvement has created a strong connection and sense of responsibility for me as the lead of the MDS portion of the meeting.
What other significant changes have you observed in SOHO since its inception? We’ve always had a strong focus on education, and that will never change, but a transition seems to be taking place this year. I see a shift from an annual meeting that is exclusively educational to one where a significant amount of new data is presented. I see this shift happening especially in AML and MDS (the areas I review) in regard to clinical trials. From my perspective, this shift is incredibly important.
I also think the hybrid meeting format we adopted has allowed individuals from other countries who may have faced travel challenges in the past to attend the meeting. SOHO has consistently captured the interest of international participants, and now the meeting is more accessible to them than ever.
Can you speak about the value of the SOHO Annual Meeting and your goals for it? There are multiple reasons people attend events like the SOHO Annual Meeting. First, there’s the educational component, an area where I believe SOHO excels. Second, there’s the research aspect, which we’re really starting to focus on. Finally, there are the networking and collaboration opportunities with meeting sponsors and investigators, which also happen at the American Society of Hematology (ASH) and American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) annual meetings. These three components are vital, and I aim to prioritize and enhance each of them during my time as president.
Regarding the educational component, I believe we’re already in a strong position, so my focus will be maintaining the quality of our educational program.
As president, I want sponsors, companies, and clinical trial organizers to know our meeting is an ideal venue for meaningful interactions given that it strikes the perfect balance in terms of size. I think leaders in the field are generally enthusiastic about attending, and I believe we can further enhance the research aspect of the annual meeting and develop ongoing research activities.
Do you have any final thoughts you’d like to share? The SOHO Annual Meeting stands out as one of the most comprehensive gatherings in the world for those who are interested in malignant hematology. What sets our meeting apart from other conferences like ASH or ASCO is its smaller size and exclusive focus on malignant hematology, which holds immense significance for the hematology-oncology community. Our concentrated focus on leukemia, lymphoma, myeloma, and transplant offers attendees an incredible opportunity to access the latest research in three or four days.
The small size of the SOHO Annual Meeting also provides clinicians with the chance to explore advancements outside of their specific areas of expertise. I frequently gain valuable insights and ideas when I sit in on a presentation by a colleague who is in a different subspeciality than my own. This collaborative environment supports the exchange of knowledge and mutual enrichment as we gather, listen, and learn from each other.
Guillermo Garcia-Manero, MD, is Chief of the Section of Myelodysplastic Syndromes and Chronic Myelomonocytic Leukemia at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center.