Highlights from the EACR-AstraZeneca Cancer Epigenetics Conference

At the beginning of December, The EACR in collaboration with Astra Zeneca held an online conference on Cancer Epigenetics. The event ran over the course of two afternoons and brought together 182 attendees from 28 countries. This is one of the advantages of an online conference, it is easier for people all over the world to join in! The EACR’s Scientific Officer, Dr. Alexandra Boitor, shares here the scientific highlights of the conference.

The programme blended basic and translational research from preclinical models to patients. The conference focused on basic and clinical aspects of targeting a broad panel of epigenetic proteins in cancer, either as monotherapies, or as combination therapies, including the use of immune checkpoint inhibitors to increase drug sensitivity and overcome chemoresistance. Mechanistic aspects of gene regulation and cellular plasticity, drug development as well as data from clinical trials using epigenetic targeted therapies were presented at this conference.   

The conference started with a talk from Dr. Ricky Johnstone from Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, Victoria, Australia. Starting from the idea that cellular transformation is ultimately a consequence of altered transcription, Dr. Johnstone highlighted that this could be key in finding particular vulnerabilities for different cancers. Dr. Johnstone’s lab looks at transcription as being akin to the cell cycle and investigates how pol II transcription cycles are controlled by CDKs [1,2]. Dr. Johnstone’s talk focused on the role that CDK11 plays in leukemia (MLL-AML) and showed his latest data on the impact that small molecule inhibitors targeting CDK11 have on leukemia cells.   

Dr Celine Vallot from Institut Curie, Paris, France and Dr Kathrin Bernt from Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, USA also gave two amazing talks on ‘Epigenetic targeting of chemoresistance in cancer’ and ‘Intrinsically disordered domains and transcription control in cancer’ respectively (the latter you can watch online in the EACR Members’ Video Archive). From the proffered papers, Dr Leslie Duplaquet’s talk from Dana Farber Cancer Institute, Boston, USA on how ‘KDM6A epigenetically regulates subtype plasticity in small cell lung cancer’ was particularly interesting. All three talks are available in the member resources area on the EACR website.

In addition to the fantastic talks presented at the conference, the programme featured a poster session on each day to offer participants the opportunity to showcase their work, but also to meet new people, create new connections, and network. The conference ended with a discussion session, around ‘How to use Epigenetic Therapies in Cancer’.  A panel consisting of Kristian Helin, Ho Man Chan, Sangeeta Goswami, Ernesto Guccione, Oliver Rausch, Celine Vallot and Jingwen Zhang moderated the conversation, but this was an open forum and participants were welcome to contribute. 

EACR Conferences

At the EACR we are dedicated to providing excellent cancer research conferences where the latest research topics and interaction for participants are the very highest priorities. Make sure you add the dates of the upcoming EACR Conferences to your diary now. Don’t forget we offer member discounts on all of our registration fees!


  1. Fan Z, Devlin JR, Hogg SJ, Doyle MA, Harrison PF, Todorovski I, Cluse LA, Knight DA, Sandow JJ, Gregory G, Fox A, Beilharz TH, Kwiatkowski N, Scott NE, Vidakovic AT, Kelly GP, Svejstrup JQ, Geyer M, Gray NS, Vervoort SJ, Johnstone RW. CDK13 cooperates with CDK12 to control global RNA polymerase II processivity. Sci Adv. 2020 Apr 29;6(18):eaaz5041. doi: 10.1126/sciadv.aaz5041. PMID: 32917631; PMCID: PMC7190357. 
  1. Vervoort SJ, Welsh SA, Devlin JR, Barbieri E, Knight DA, Offley S, Bjelosevic S, Costacurta M, Todorovski I, Kearney CJ, Sandow JJ, Fan Z, Blyth B, McLeod V, Vissers JHA, Pavic K, Martin BP, Gregory G, Demosthenous E, Zethoven M, Kong IY, Hawkins ED, Hogg SJ, Kelly MJ, Newbold A, Simpson KJ, Kauko O, Harvey KF, Ohlmeyer M, Westermarck J, Gray N, Gardini A, Johnstone RW. The PP2A-Integrator-CDK9 axis fine-tunes transcription and can be targeted therapeutically in cancer. Cell. 2021 Jun 10;184(12):3143-3162.e32. doi: 10.1016/j.cell.2021.04.022. Epub 2021 May 17. PMID: 34004147; PMCID: PMC8567840.