The American Society of Clinical Oncology is taking steps to clamp down on the selective disclosure of nonpublic research data prior to its big cancer meeting in May. This is a significant step for the medical group, which runs one of the most important and closely watched scientific meetings of the year. Shares in biotech and pharmaceutical companies rise and fall based on drug research results presented at the ASCO annual meeting, slated this year to run May 18-21 in Orlando, Fla. As TheStreet.com reported extensively last year, ASCO members and Wall Street insiders get early access to preliminary, but still market-moving, information contained in research abstracts. And they use that advantage to trade before the general investing public has any inkling of what's happening. As a nonprofit organization, ASCO is not subject to Regulation FD, which the Securities and Exchange Commission designed to quash selective disclosure of market-moving information. But as this year's meeting approaches, ASCO officials are acknowledging for the first time that its previous policies ran counter to the spirit of the law, and they're trying to do something to stop it. Whether ASCO will be successful is still an unanswered question.
In the letter, ASCO acknowledges that information contained in its research abstract book has been distributed and publicly discussed prior to the meeting. To stop this, the group is instituting a new confidentiality policy that will govern the use of abstract information. ASCO is also prohibiting the dissemination of any abstract reprints before the meeting. "Recently, the Securities and Exchange Commission has stepped up its efforts to ensure that nonpublic research data is not selectively released," the letter begins. After detailing the above-mentioned changes, the letter ends by stating that, "although ASCO is not subject to the new SEC regulations regarding fair disclosure, this change does help to align our Society's policies with the spirit of those SEC regulations." Laura Livingston, ASCO's deputy director of communications, confirmed the letter but would not comment on its contents, including providing specifics on the new confidentiality policy. "We will make these changes public after we've communicated them to our members," she says. ASCO expects that to happen by mid-April, when research abstracts will be released to people who have preregistered for the annual meeting.