Spring 2021 (Volume 31, Number 1)
ACR Convergence 2020 Review
By Philip A. Baer, MDCM, FRCPC, FACR
The American College of Rheumatology (ACR)
pivoted their 2020 meeting wisely in the spring of
2020 to a fully virtual format, retitled ACR Convergence.
By the time November rolled around, we were all
veterans of virtual meetings, including platforms such as
Zoom, GotoMeeting, MS Teams, Webex and others. I had
“attended” EULAR 2020 in the first phase of the pandemic.
Navigating posters was easy, but the platform had
trouble coping with the large number of attendees for live
Given the absence of opportunities for real vacations,
booking off my office from Thursday through Monday for
ACR was akin to a busman’s holiday, but a break nevertheless.
Registration and the introduction to the ACR Convergence
platform went smoothly. As at all such meetings, you
derive benefits proportional to the time invested. I spent
time working through the agenda, finding interesting
posters and plenary abstracts. It was easy to download relevant
PDFs and PowerPoint slides, and to listen to short
audio summaries of most posters. An interesting pearl for
those still accessing the meeting resources, which are available
online until mid-March 2021: In individual sessions
under the FILE tab, no files may be listed, but the relevant
PDF files can often be found by clicking on the individual
speaker’s name and looking under their FILE tab.
Once the actual conference started, 16,000-plus attendees
from 111 countries joined the platform. A triumph
for ACR, but a massive loss for Washington D.C. hotels and
restaurants, where the 2020 meeting was originally supposed
to take place immediately after the U.S. elections.
Most of us were thankful not to be there in the middle
of a pandemic. Even with all those people online, I never
crashed or failed to access the
ACR meeting, but the video
quality varied greatly. The
feed froze at times, but the
chat feature reassured me that
I was not alone. The wisdom
of ACR having pre-taped
many of the lectures became
evident, with the presenters
available afterwards for live
Q&A. Downloading slides in
advance and following the lecture
using those PDFs while
listening to the speakers provided
the best experience.
The opening session featured Dr. Eric Rubin, current
New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) editor-in-chief,
providing an excellent COVID review covering drugs and
potential vaccines. Many of these data had recently been
published in NEJM. This was followed by a succinct Year in
Review session with Drs. Yazdany and Bucala.
ACR awards included the Presidential Gold Medal
Dr. James O’Dell of RAIN and RACAT fame.
This is the highest award that the ACR can bestow, awarded
in recognition of outstanding achievements in rheumatology
over an entire career. As well, one of our own,
Ciarán Duffy, was recognized as a Master of the American
College of Rheumatology.
The Great Debate featured Vibeke Strand, MD, on the
pro side, and Michael Weinblatt, MD, on the con side of the
proposition that “Janus Kinase Inhibitors Should/Should
Not Be Used Before Biologics After Methotrexate Failure
in RA.” Dr. Weinblatt was the clear winner in my view: 22
years of experience with anti-TNFs is a powerful plus, as
well as the tapering possibilities for patients in LDA/remission,
despite JAK inhibitors having advantages of oral
administration, rapid efficacy, better monotherapy data,
and some achievement of superior outcomes vs. anti-TNFs.
The official poll favoured the con side by 2:1.
One benefit of the virtual format: No problem if you are
interested in two sessions running simultaneously – you
can switch back and forth or listen to one live and another
later. No more rushing between lecture halls at opposite
ends of a massive convention centre, though one also loses
the benefits of that physical activity. Sitting for hours at
the computer is more grueling and more detrimental to
one’s physical health than many would have imagined in the pre-pandemic era. The usual drawbacks of online meetings
were also evident: No one-on-one chats with poster
presenters, no randomly stumbling upon an interesting
poster while strolling the poster hall, and no serendipitous
meetings with colleagues.
Another highlight for me was the superb Hench lecture
by Dr. Gerd Burmeister on the history of biologic therapies
in rheumatology. This was a great reminder of how far we
have come in the last twenty years.
At live meetings, there is always a dichotomy between
the official program of lectures, posters and symposia and
the unofficial program of networking, sharing food and beverages
with colleagues, and seeing the sights of the host
city. Both provide value and enhance the total meeting
experience. At virtual meetings, a similar parallel track
exists. I would label this as ACR vs. “meta ACR.” The meta
ACR featured the CRA’s concurrent program of daily updates,
tweets, trivia challenges and game changers. Dr. Jack
Cush ran a similar excellent RheumNow program, including
two evening programs during the meeting with Dr. Artie
Kavanaugh and a rotating crew of guest experts reviewing
key highlights. More informal meta aspects included the
chats and Q&A streams accompanying each session. Two
colleagues and I maintained a group text chat throughout
the meeting, keeping each other engaged and highlighting
interesting sessions to attend.
Overall, ACR Convergence 2020 delivered a satisfying
experience. The 2021 meeting is scheduled for November
in San Francisco, but I expect a virtual component is here
Philip A. Baer, MDCM, FRCPC, FACR