Targeting treatment

GRU Cancer Center will better enable much-needed minority cancer care

The one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work in many instances, especially health care.

Race and ethnicity play roles in disease prevalence, as well as how patients respond to drugs and other therapies.

Unfortunately, developing better, more tailored treatments for minorities remains a challenge because of their low participation rate in clinical trials that could identify novel treatments or identify a drug’s potential side effects.

That’s why this community should be encouraged by Georgia Regents University Cancer Center’s plan to increase African-American participation in clinical cancer trials through an in-state network funded by a $3.2 million federal grant.

The GRU Cancer Center grant was one of only 12 awarded nationally by the National Cancer Institute. The outreach network, called the GRU NCI Community Oncology Research Program Minority/Underserved Community Site, will include Morehouse School of Medicine in Atlanta; University Cancer and Blood Center in Athens; and Georgia Southern University in Statesboro.

“It will help us in reaching out to our underserved community,” GRU Cancer Center Director Samir N. Khleif said.

Nonwhites account for less than 5 percent of clinical trial participants nationwide, and only 2 percent of clinical cancer studies focus on non-white ethnic groups, according to a University of California-Davis study.

Studies have shown cost, transportation issues and cultural differences play roles in lower minority participation in clinical trials. Additionally, blacks have trust issues stemming from the notorious Tuskegee Syphilis Study experiments conducted in Alabama decades ago by the U.S. Public Health Service.

The government has sought to enhance participation in recent years by requiring NIH-funded research to include minorities. And the recent Food and Drug Administration Safety and Innovation Act requires that clinical trials submitted to the FDA include reports on safety and effectiveness data based on sex, age, race and ethnicity.

Nationally, blacks make up 12 percent of the population but less than 8 percent of clinical trial participants. With blacks making up a substantial percentage of patients at GRU’s clinical affiliates, GRU is in a good position to help clarify cancer disparities in African-Americans while delivering state-of-the-art care that could make an important difference in their outcomes.

The GRU Cancer Center already has conducted clinical trials on cancers that disproportionately affect minorities, such as triple-negative breast cancer, a more aggressive form of the disease commonly diagnosed in black women.

White women have a 7 percent higher incidence of breast cancer and a 9 percent higher incidence of cancer overall, but black women have a 26 percent higher death rate from breast cancer. Black men, for example, have almost double the rate of prostate cancer than whites, and are 2.4 times more likely to die from it.

Having the outreach program also will help with the 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.

“This is clearly a major step,” he said. “It’s a highly competitive grant and we were able to get it.”

The GRU Cancer Center is an asset to the CSRA. The new grant strengthens our medical community and, hopefully, the health care it provides for all its residents.

GRU Cancer Center receives minority grant

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