Bristol Myers Squibb awarded a $5 million grant to Stand Up To Cancer for research and education efforts to achieve health equity for underserved patients with lung cancer.
The 3-year grant will fund supplemental grants with a particular focus on Black populations and people living in rural communities. The effort is a part of Stand Up To Cancer’s Health Equity Initiative, which aims to increase diverse population in cancer clinical trials and address disparities in cancer research and treatment.
“Despite progress in treating lung cancer, the disease remains the leading cause of cancer death in the U.S., with particularly high death rates in rural communities and among Black men” Sung Poblete, PhD, RN, CEO of Stand Up To Cancer.
“We are so thankful to Bristol Myers Squibb for this grant, which unites our common goals of improving cancer care for underserved communities,” Sung Poblete, PhD, RN, CEO of Stand Up To Cancer, said in a press release. “This is the type of commitment and collaboration needed to ensure all [patients with cancer] benefit equally from advances in research and treatment.”
Poblete told Healio what prompted this research initiative, potential implications of the findings and what future research may entail.
Question: What prompted this research initiative?
Cancer clinical trials have lacked diverse participation for decades. Only 4% of cancer clinical trial participants are Black and 5% are Hispanic, according to FDA data, despite the fact that people of color have the highest mortality rates and shortest survival rates for most cancers. The Bristol Myers Squibb grant supports Stand Up To Cancer’s Health Equity Initiative by funding research and education efforts aimed at achieving health equity for underserved patients with lung cancer. The Stand Up To Cancer’s Health Equity Initiative also includes a funding opportunity for a new Stand Up To Cancer Health Equity Breakthrough Team — supported by a transformational grant from Genentech — that will bring together the best scientific minds from diverse fields of research to concentrate on new approaches to address health disparities in the context of cancer research. Additionally, the initiative introduces procurement language requiring that all new Stand Up To Cancer-supported research grant proposals include and address crucial issues related to recruitment and retention of patients from diverse ethnic groups to improve minority participation in cancer clinical trials. We have incorporated this language into our funding model because it is imperative to always think about health equity as an integral part of the cancer research paradigm. Stand Up To Cancer is collaborating with the Black Women’s Health Imperative and Friends of Cancer Research in Project TEACH: Trained Empowered Advocates for Community Health (Healing), funded by the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute, and is building awareness about cancer clinical trials through public service announcements featuring diverse celebrity ambassadors.
Q: What will the focus of research include?
The research efforts funded by the 3-year grant from Bristol Myers Squibb will focus on identifying new and innovative diagnostic and treatment methods for patients with lung cancer in need and will be designed to jumpstart pilot projects at the intersection of lung cancer, health disparities and rural health care — for instance, increasing clinical trial enrollment among historically underrepresented groups. This type of research is critical because despite progress in treating lung cancer, the disease remains the leading cause of cancer death in the U.S., with particularly high death rates in rural communities and among Black men. As the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted, our country is far from health care equality. Many of the same economic and social conditions that are actively contributing to COVID-19 testing and treatment inequities have long existed in cancer care. For example, lung cancer deaths in Black men are 22.5% higher than among white men.
Q: What research is underway?
The research projects funded by this grant will be chosen in 2021. Stand Up To Cancer has funded 17 team science projects in lung cancer, and 24 lung cancer clinical trials have been supported to date. With this comprehensive lung cancer network and the dedication to diversifying cancer clinical trials, Stand Up To Cancer will leverage the Bristol Myers Squibb grant to reach patients with lung cancer who historically have been marginalized by our health care system. Since 2014, Bristol Myers Squibb has provided funding for other important Stand Up To Cancer research initiatives, including research and clinical trials targeting a wide range of cancers, such as non-small cell lung cancer, metastatic melanoma, smoldering multiple myeloma, pediatric hypermutant cancers, pediatric brain tumors and pediatric neuroblastoma. Funding has also supported convergence grants, which harness computational science to understand fundamental cancer biology, innovative research grants focused on immuno-oncology and “dream teams” focused on lung cancer.
Q: What do you hope this research ultimately will provide for minority patients?
Our hope is that the research efforts funded by this grant will unite the scientific and health equity needs of lung cancer and create public awareness of health inequities while creating new options for diagnosis and treatment. Bringing these types of innovative approaches to underserved populations is a key focus for both Stand Up To Cancer and Bristol Myers Squibb. We also hope that Stand Up To Cancer’s Health Equity Initiative will amplify the conversation around health equity so that researchers, institutions and cancer research funders become more engaged in increasing diversity in cancer clinical trials, as well as ensuring that new, more effective treatments will help all patients with cancer.
Q: Is there anything else that you would like to mention?
Despite an overall decline in U.S. cancer deaths since 1991, not all patients have benefited equally from advances in prevention, early detection, precision medicine and targeted cancer treatments. According to the NCI, some key disparities include:
- African American patients have higher death rates than all other groups for many, although not all, cancer types.
- African American women are more likely than white women to die of breast cancer.
- Colorectal cancer incidence is higher among African Americans than whites.
- Hispanic and American Indian/Alaska Native women have higher rates of cervical cancer than women of other racial/ethnic groups.
- African American women have the highest rates of death due to cervical cancer.
Social determinants of health play a big role in these disparities. For example, according to the NCI, minority racial and ethnic groups are more likely to be medically underserved, with limited access to quality health care. In addition, people who are medically underserved are less likely to receive recommended cancer screening tests and more likely to be diagnosed with late-stage cancer that might have been treated more effectively if diagnosed earlier. These disparities have persisted for decades, and the COVID-19 pandemic has magnified the impact on Black and Hispanic communities rooted in systemic inequity in health care.
CDC data show Black and Hispanic people represent a disproportionately larger percentage of confirmed COVID-19 cases compared with the size of those populations. These conditions cannot be allowed to persist, and it is incumbent on the medical community to systematically break down the barriers to equitable health care. Stand Up To Cancer, with support of our donors and collaborators, has taken important first steps through our Health Equity Initiative and we are committed to working toward the day when all patients with cancer, regardless of race or ethnicity, will become long-term survivors.