The Health Equity Breakthrough Team includes clinical cancer specialists and experts in the social science components of community health
Credit: Stand Up To Cancer
NEW YORK – March 23, 2021 – Stand Up To Cancer® (SU2C) today announced funding for its first team of researchers dedicated to health equity in cancer research. The SU2C Health Equity Breakthrough Team will receive $6 million for its innovative proposal to address the low participation of Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) in cancer clinical trials. The team includes doctors and scientists specializing in both social science and clinical research from four New York City institutions that serve some of the most diverse and medically underserved communities in the U.S.
This team is a central part of SU2C’s Health Equity Initiative. Announced in January 2020, the Health Equity Initiative requires all future SU2C-supported research grant proposals to address recruitment and retention of BIPOC patients in cancer clinical trials. The initiative is guided by SU2C’s Health Equity Committee which was formed in 2018 and is chaired by internationally renowned researcher, Edith Perez, MD, professor of medicine at the Mayo Clinic and chief medical officer at Bolt Biotherapeutics. The initiative also emphasizes team research focused on cancer disparities, with the funding of more health equity-focused teams to come in 2021. The SU2C Health Equity Breakthrough Team was funded with support from a transformational grant from Genentech, a member of the Roche Group, after a rigorous review process that included members of SU2C’s Health Equity Committee and other health equity experts.
“Cancer research has made tremendous progress but has not benefited all patients equitably,” said Dr. Perez, who is also vice chair of the SU2C Scientific Advisory Committee. “It is incumbent upon the medical community to ensure that new treatments are available and effective for all, and one of the key pieces to accomplishing that aim is to ensure diversity in clinical trials. This team, representing some of the best minds in social science and cancer research, can help us explore this critical issue and develop much-needed new norms for cancer care.”
The team will focus on three areas. It will work with community organizations to raise awareness about cancer research in communities where people are often told little about the latest cancer treatment and research breakthroughs. The team will train scientists and doctors to better understand how life circumstances affect the health of certain communities, and the importance of engaging with and including a diverse group of patients in cancer research and clinical trials. It will also explore ways to better inform underrepresented patients about clinical trials, including creating a digital system that will link patients with clinical trials in the New York City area.
In engaging with cancer patients about possible clinical trials in which they might participate, the team will especially focus on breast, prostate and liver cancers. All three cancers disproportionately affect racial and ethnic minority groups. The combination of these aims – along with the potential broad utilization of the materials and methods developed by the team – represent a breakthrough towards addressing health equity in cancer clinical trials.
“Together as an industry and as a society, we must take bold action to advance equity in cancer clinical research and drive lasting change on this critical issue,” said Quita Highsmith, chief diversity officer at Genentech. “We believe the work of this team will be integral to ensuring all racial and ethnic groups are included in cancer research and can benefit from the next breakthroughs in treatment.”
Participation by BIPOC patients in all clinical trials has traditionally been very low. For example, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently reported that only 4% of clinical trial participants are Black and 5% are Hispanic. This is despite the fact that minority groups overall in the U.S. have both the highest death rate and shortest survival rate for most cancers.
“Much of our standard of care in cancer is grounded in research with mostly white populations,” says Nina Bickell, MD, MPH, professor of population health science and policy at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai and co-lead of cancer prevention and control at Mount Sinai’s Tisch Cancer Institute, who will lead the team. “Our goal is to figure out how we can change that –in how scientists approach their work, how medically underserved communities can learn more about pioneering cancer research and treatments and how care delivery systems can make it easier for patients to learn about clinical trials.”
The team will work with community-based groups and community oncologists in New York City to help engage people from medically underserved communities and try to establish new standards regarding their views on cancer care and research.
“Currently, most tactics to increasing diversity in cancer research involve approaching patients after they are diagnosed with cancer,” says Karen Hubbard, PhD, professor of biology at The City College of New York, who will be co-leader of the team. “We want to find ways to educate people in these communities about this research much earlier in the process. So, if someone is diagnosed with cancer, it won’t be the first time they’ve heard about clinical trials.”
For decades, Bickell has worked with New York City’s safety-net hospitals, designing and implementing programs that reduce disparities in cancer care and investigating potential causes of underlying inequalities in cancer outcomes. Hubbard has extensively studied age and race-related differences in cancer treatment outcomes and – as a Black scientist – is committed to training diverse students from underserved communities. The other two team leads are Bruce Rapkin, PhD, associate director of community outreach and engagement at the Albert Einstein Cancer Center and professor of epidemiology and population health at Albert Einstein College of Medicine; and Mary Beth Terry, PhD, associate director for population science and community outreach at Columbia University’s Herbert Irving Comprehensive Cancer Center. Rapkin focuses on collaborative partnerships with underserved communities to improve health and quality of life outcomes. Terry, a professor of epidemiology at the Columbia Mailman School of Public Health, has led studies for two decades on environmental modifiers of cancer risk. The team is also joined by Zorina Costello, DMin, the director of community engagement for the Center for Spirituality and Health at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai; and Ivis Sampayo, chief diversity officer and senior director of public outreach at SHARE Cancer Support, a nonprofit leader in culturally competent cancer support. The team will be supported by an External Advisory Committee and also includes patient advocates.
This mix of clinical cancer specialists – as well as experts who understand cancer and the social science components of community health – is vital to the team’s focus to inform cancer patients in racially and ethnically diverse communities about cancer research and clinical trials, and to help educate entire communities about that work.
As a part of its ongoing Health Equity Initiative, SU2C will continue to fund awareness campaigns and research concentrated on key issues associated with cancer clinical trial diversity and on improving treatments for cancers that disproportionately impact communities of color, such as lung and colorectal cancer.
Stand Up To Cancer
About Stand Up To Cancer
Stand Up To Cancer® (SU2C) raises funds to accelerate the pace of research to get new therapies to patients quickly and save lives now. SU2C, a division of the Entertainment Industry Foundation, a 501(c)(3) charitable organization, was established in 2008 by media and entertainment leaders who utilize these communities’ resources to engage the public in supporting a new, collaborative model of cancer research, to increase awareness about cancer prevention, and to highlight progress being made in the fight against the disease. As of 2021, more than 1,950 scientists representing more than 210 institutions are involved in SU2C-funded research projects.
Under the direction of our Scientific Advisory Committee, led by Nobel laureate Phillip A. Sharp, Ph.D., SU2C operates rigorous competitive review processes to identify the best research proposals to recommend for funding, oversee grants administration, and ensure collaboration across research programs.
Current members of the SU2C Founders and Advisors Committee (FAC) include Katie Couric, Sherry Lansing, Kathleen Lobb, Lisa Paulsen, Rusty Robertson, Sue Schwartz, Pamela Oas Williams, and Ellen Ziffren. The late Laura Ziskin and the late Noreen Fraser are also co-founders. Sung Poblete, Ph.D., R.N., serves as SU2C’s CEO. For more information, visit StandUpToCancer.org.