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IMPACT research grants to help underserved patients access clinical trials

May. 6, 2021, 1:48 PM


The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS) announced today the launch of IMPACT (Influential Medicine Providing Access to Clinical Trials) research grants to increase enrollment of individuals from underrepresented communities in clinical trials. Vanderbilt University Medical Center is leading one of the first three projects to receive IMPACT funding.

Clinical trials are vital to improving cancer treatment, giving newly diagnosed patients access to state-of the-art therapies, and providing a lifeline when other treatments have failed. Yet, clinical trials overwhelmingly fail to represent certain patient populations such as ethnic and racial minorities and people in rural communities.

To overcome these inequities, LLS created the IMPACT research grants, which will award funding to major cancer research and treatment centers to establish a “hub and spoke” infrastructure to expand access to clinical trials in their region. Each of the hubs or major cancer centers will develop networks of trial sites in local community-based hospitals and clinics with significant underserved populations. The $3.75 million five-year program, designed with a tailored approach to building engagement in underserved communities, is the first undertaking of its kind by a blood cancer organization.

“To get the full benefit of cancer research, we need clinical trials to reflect the diversity of the U.S. population,” said Lee Greenberger, PhD, LLS chief scientific officer. “But this is also about health equity, which is central to the LLS mission. Blood cancer does not discriminate, and people of every age, gender, ethnicity and socioeconomic status are affected and deserve the same choices in their care.”

Research has shown that populations at risk for cancer health disparities are also less likely than other groups to participate in clinical trials.

LLS has selected three projects for the first round of funding: Mayo Clinic in the upper Midwest, VUMC in the rural south, and Weill Cornell Medicine in New York City. Each five-year initiative anticipates increasing trial enrollment from underrepresented communities to at least 20 percent. An overview of the programs below:

  • Mayo Clinic Cancer Center partnered with the Minnesota Cancer Clinical Trials Network and Mayo Clinic Health System to address major barriers to clinical trials enrollment for minority patients with blood cancers. The program includes a network of 35 clinical sites throughout rural, underserved communities in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa. The program also focuses on economically disadvantaged minority patients in urban areas of metropolitan Minneapolis.
  • VUMC: This effort, which leverages the Vanderbilt Health Affiliated Network and Baptist Memorial Health Care (Baptist), includes nearly half of the counties and parishes in the Delta Regional Authority, one of the most economically vulnerable areas in the United States. This area also has some of the country’s highest cancer incidence and mortality rates. The LLS IMPACT program at Vanderbilt will increase clinical trial access, with the option to enroll in ten clinical trials across seven blood cancer types that will be open at nine Baptist locations around the region.
  • Weill Cornell Medicine: While Weill Cornell Medicine is located in Manhattan, more than half of the annual blood cancer cases in New York City occur in residents who reside in nearby Queens and Brooklyn. Direct access to cutting-edge clinical trials is limited at the community hospitals that service those boroughs. The Weill Cornell Medicine IMPACT project, also supported by Genentech, is collaborating with New York-Presbyterian Queens and New York-Presbyterian Brooklyn Methodist Hospital to build an infrastructure to increase enrollment in clinical trials at these sites. The program will provide education for community physicians, including training primary care physicians as clinical trial advocates, and community oncologists as experts in clinical trial protocols.

Michael Savona, MD, professor of Medicine and Cancer Biology, and holder of the Beverly and George Rawlings Directorship, is leading the Vanderbilt project.

“Addressing disparities in access and outcomes is part of our core mission in Hematology, and across the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center. Clinical trials are the leading edge of new therapy development, and nowhere is this more clear than in hematologic malignancies for which VUMC investigators have contributed to the approval of over a dozen new therapies for leukemia, lymphoma and multiple myeloma in just the past three years. The IMPACT program is exciting as it engineers a focus on sharing this successful approach of novel clinical trial development away from the hub of the Medical Center,” Savona said.

Mayo, Vanderbilt and Weill are co-funding the IMPACT grants, demonstrating their partnership with LLS and commitment to the program. This program was also made possible by philanthropic investment from companies including Bristol Myers Squibb and MorphoSys Foundation, as well as LLS donor investment from Louise and John Bryan, Edward J. Phillips Family Foundation, Rahr Corporation and Cal Turner Jr.

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