All too often, people who’ve received a cancer diagnosis can find the treatment nearly as frustrating and painful as the disease itself, thanks to healthcare professionals who don’t fully grasp their plight and don’t listen to their needs. Oncological clinical trial participants can face similar woes—and for patients from underrepresented communities, the frustrations only become compounded.
GRYT Health is an organization seeking to turn the tables by elevating the voice of cancer patients and connecting them with industry professionals poised to make a difference. Founded and operated by cancer survivors, GRYT runs programs and events geared toward building a bridge between patients and life-sciences professionals, with the goal of improving drug development and care.
Dave Craig, GRYT’s CEO and co-founder, was a researcher in the pharmaceutical industry when he received his first cancer diagnosis. While he felt like his industry experience and knowledge should have helped his patient experience, he felt more than a little at sea.
“I never felt like the experience that I had ever shown up in the research,” he admitted. “I didn’t feel like there was humanity in the research.”
He decided to make a change from his research career, and he set about searching for a way to make a difference for cancer patients.
“I left to create something that was more human, and more representative of what it’s like to go through cancer,” Craig told Outsourcing-Pharma.
Craig and Kenny Kane (GRYT chief technology officer, co-founder, and fellow cancer survivor) came up with GRYT Health, a digital oncology organization with the mission of helping patients feel empowered in their own cancer journeys, through the use of education, engagement, and informed support. Events like the second annual Global Virtual Cancer Conference (GVCC)—a two-day online gathering that convened in November—offer forums for patients to share their stories with physicians, pharma leaders, researchers, and other industry professionals.
A driving reason for the launch of the GVCC series, Craig said, is the experience of Shelley Holden, GRYT’s chairwoman and a survivor of advanced-stage leukemia.
“She spent 40 days in the hospital fighting for her life, and then three years on treatment,” Craig told OSP. “When she was in the hospital, she passed a poster on the wall for a cancer event--she was filled with anger because she could barely walk, let alone travel to another city.”
Holden’s experience, Craig explained, fueled the creation of the online GVCC, “to meet people where they are, and not put financial burden or travel burden or immunocompromised burden on people, but to create something they could access wherever they are.”
Craig remarked that the aim of the GVCC and other GRYT events is to have patients “come away informed and inspired to navigate their journey.”
“Last year, we had a woman who was in both days of the conference,” he related. “In the final networking session at the end, she said, ‘I've learned more in these two days than I had in the whole last year.’ That's what we hope is that people just connect with others, learn from peers and from experts.”
GRYT also works to amplify the voice of cancer patients of color. Early in GRYT’s mission to make a difference, Craig noted that cancer patients from those communities faced additional burdens in their in care and research.
“We often talk about the dropout rate from trials for people that are hard to reach,” he commented. “But when you talk to those individuals, they're not dropping out—they’re being mistreated, and they're hardly ever approached in the way that's appropriate. Putting ourselves in their shoes, we get to see it totally differently.”
GRYT’s leadership connects with patients from Black, Latino, Asian, and other minority communities to incorporate and perspective of people of color about their cancer journeys. Megan-Claire Chase, who recently marked her five-year anniversary as a cancer survivor (or “warrior” as she proudly states), has lent her experience and wisdom to events like the GVCC as well as Diversity in Oncology, a platform arising from a partnership with Bristol Myers Squibb.
Much like Craig, Chase left her previous career in the hopes of making a difference.
“I made the switch from corporate into wanting to work fully in the cancer space because I really didn't see my voice represented in a lot of programs,” she explained. “Often as part of an underrepresented population, we don't know what we can say and what we can't say, and if that'll be used against us.”
When she met Craig three years ago, the two bonded over their similar cancer experiences, both diagnosed under 40, and they kept in touch. Then, when Craig told her about the GRYT launch and invited her to take part, she jumped.
“I said, ‘This is so perfect and natural because I'm making sure that the type of organizations and initiatives that we're part of there's real diversity and inclusion,’” she said. “We're not just talking the talk, but we're walking the walk. I know that my voice really matters and that they want to hear it.”
To date, Chase told OSP, she has found her work as a partnership director with GRYT rewarding.
“I love the authenticity of what being part of GRYT Health means," she noted. "I can share my experiences and be heard and accepted and then figure out new solutions and really make an impact to change healthcare."
“We all deserve to be treated properly, with respect and dignity,” she added. “It's exciting that with GRYT health and then this new initiative with Bristol Myers Squibb, Diversity and Oncology, that's what we're trying to do, and it’s awesome.”
Craig said the support of Bristol Myers Squibb and other key industry players is heartening.
“This is the industry recognizing how important it is to meet patients where they are and hear what they have to say,” he said. “The industry embracing this direction is profound—it makes us feel like we matter.”
He added that support from BMS and other sponsors enables GRYT to invite patients to attend for free.
What’s more, Chase said, is inviting cancer warriors from Black, Latino, Asian, and other underrepresented communities to participate enables them to connect directly with members of the healthcare industry and speak their peace.
“They talk about what they’ve experienced, the barriers and the challenges and--quite frankly—the racism that has been experienced and impacted their care,” she told us. “They really get in-depth about what their experience was like what getting into a clinical trial and, once they were in, how their doctors dismissed them.”
“It’s really creating a safe space and having these really necessary and important conversations—it’s very honest and raw, and I'm really honored to be part of it,” she added.
The next event on the GRYT Health calendar is the January Member Meetup; the online gathering (taking place January 11) is free and open but registration is required.