Charitable organization Stand Up to Cancer (SU2C) has announced a $5m sponsorship from Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies, which will be employed to help increase diversity in Phase I and Phase II cancer studies. Specifically, the funding will go to four groups of researchers developing innovative approaches to remove barriers to clinical trial participation for patients of all racial and ethnic backgrounds, and to connect with patients in underserved communities.
The Diversity in Early Development Clinical Trials program is part of SU2C’s Health Equity Initiative. The goal of the program is to address cancer disparities by creating a sustainable, scalable, and replicable approach to removing barriers to Phase I and Phase II oncological trial participation.
The program will foster collaboration in four regions, determined by the chosen groups of funded researchers. The teams will work with federally qualified health centers, clinics, and local advocacy organizations that serve medically underserved communities within each region.
Then, the four teams will gather to discuss progress and research findings over the course of the grant period, in order to ensure best practices are being incorporated into the program. SU2C plans to offer dedicated support for community awareness and outreach in support of the grantee teams, and additional funding for local community advocacy organizations to support these efforts.
Each grantee team will be unique in bringing together stakeholders that are connected to their impacted communities. The funded research will integrate social and behavioral determinants of health and community engagement with cancer biology, prevention, and treatment to improve cancer health equity. A mentorship component for early-career investigators interested in improving cancer clinical trial diversity will also be included in each team's effort.
"As one of the leading funders in cancer research, Stand Up To Cancer believes it is critical to ensure that the lack of diverse representation in cancer clinical trials is addressed," said Russell Chew, president of SU2C. "This is a national imperative that we cannot turn away from. We need fresh ideas that help to innovate and redesign the cancer clinical research enterprise to include communities that have long been left out. We are incredibly grateful to Janssen for their support in these critical efforts."
Cancer trial participation in the US is significantly lower for people of diverse races and ethnicities, and for people in medically underserved communities; further, substantial disparities exist in screening, diagnosis, and mortality rates for most cancers. According to 2020 data from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), 73% of cancer trial participants are white, 14% are Asian, 6% are Hispanic and 5% are Black.
These ongoing disparities in study participation mean that many Americans from diverse groups may be less likely to have access to innovative therapies in clinical trials. Moreover, the lack of diverse trial representation makes it difficult for providers to find evidence-based treatments for all patients.
"We look forward to working with Stand Up To Cancer on this important initiative as part of our ongoing commitment to building diversity, equity and inclusion not just in our late phase clinical research but also in our early clinical development programs," said Jeffrey Infante, global head of oncology early clinical development and translational research with Janssen Research and Development. "As an oncology community, we must come together to prioritize engaging patients from all backgrounds in clinical trials and, at the same time, support research that seeks to understand and overcome the barriers to clinical trial participation."
If interested, potential grantees should submit a Letter of Intent by June 30. Applicants who are invited to submit a full application should do so by August 29. The selected teams will be notified in September 2022 and awardees will be required to participate in a SU2C Community Engagement Innovation Summit in November 2022. Janssen will have input into the selection criteria and how the grant funds are to be used, and SU2C will have the final vote in the selection of the grantees
SU2C kicked off its Health Equity Initiative in January 2020. The initiative focuses on three areas: increasing diversity in SU2C-funded clinical trials, initiating advocacy group collaborations and awareness campaigns, and funding research aimed at improving cancer outcomes and screening rates in medically underserved communities.