The National Cancer Institute awarded GRU Cancer Center a $3.2 million grant to become a NCI Community Oncology Research Program Minority/Underserved Community Site. It was one of only 12 awarded nationally, GRU Cancer Center Director Samir N. Khleif said.
“This is clearly a major step,” he said. “It’s a highly competitive grant and we were able to get it. This is an area that needs lots of work.”
GRU is forming the network to reach out to minorities with Morehouse School of Medicine in Atlanta, University Cancer and Blood Center in Athens, and Georgia Southern University in Statesboro.
Nationally, blacks make up less than eight percent of patients who participate in clinical trials and that can make it difficult to discern if a drug or therapy might work differently for them, Khleif said.
“It would be very difficult to make conclusions on African American outcomes without really having a good percentage of African Americans (in the clinical trial),” he said.
GRU Cancer Center already had a focus on minorities as part of its strategic plan and already had clinical trials on cancers that disproportionately affect minorities, such as triple-negative breast cancer, Khleif said. This will not only help the recruitment for those research trials but make it easier to add more, he said.
It should also help the cancer center to address horrific disparities in cancer deaths between whites and blacks. Black men have almost double the rate of prostate cancer than whites and are 2.4 times more likely to die from it, according to the American Cancer Society.
White women have a seven percent higher incidence of breast cancer and a nine percent higher incidence of cancer overall, but black women have a 26 percent higher death rate from breast cancer and a 10 percent higher death rate overall, cancer society statistics show. Black women die from uterine cancer at twice the rate of whites, statistics show.
Getting into a clinical trial means access to care that might make a difference in those outcomes, Khleif said.
“You can provide definitely better care and you can make it easier for people with low access to get state-of-the-art and novel therapies,” he said.
Having the outreach program will also help with GRU Cancer Center’s quest to become the second NCI-designated Cancer Center in the state because it is the kind of community involvement the agency likes to see, Khleif said. It is also the kind of interaction the cancer center wants to have more of, he said.
“It will help us in reaching out to our underserved community,” Khleif said. “Even with this we have a long way to go to be able to do what we are supposed to do.”