RYE BROOK, N.Y., May 13, 2021 — The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society (LLS) announced today the launch of the IMPACT (Influential Medicine Providing Access to Clinical Trials) research grants to increase enrollment of individuals from underrepresented communities in clinical trials. 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 unique and 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, Ph.D., 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, Vanderbilt University Medical Center 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 is below:
IMPACT at Mayo Clinic: 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.
IMPACT at Vanderbilt University Medical Center: 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.
IMPACT at 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.
“Our team at Weill Cornell Medicine is thrilled to collaborate with The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society on this important initiative,” said Dr. John Leonard, senior associate dean for innovation and initiatives and the Richard T. Silver Distinguished Professor of Hematology and Medical Oncology at Weill Cornell Medicine, and a hematologist and medical oncologist at New York-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center. “Our efforts to provide state-of-the-art care and research opportunities to all blood cancer patients – including those from under-resourced backgrounds – synergize closely with those of LLS through the IMPACT program. We are committed to these efforts and are excited to accelerate our research programs through this collaboration and close engagement with our community.”
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.
LLS works on multiple fronts toward health equity for all blood cancer patients
LLS has programs in place across research, advocacy and patient services to address health disparities. These efforts include Myeloma Link, a community-based outreach and education program in African American communities, Spanish-language resources and services for patients and caregivers, and the Equity in Access research program, which will advance the study of underlying causes of inequitable access to care and identify policies, strategies and interventions to effect change. LLS is also leading a national study with the University of Florida to increase primary care providers’ capacity to educate diverse patients with cancer about clinical trials.
Through its advocacy work, LLS is pursuing efforts to improve access to trials for underrepresented patients. For example, LLS and its advocacy partners played a key role in developing the Clinical Treatment Act, which requires Medicaid to cover trial-related care starting in 2022. LLS is also working to advance policies that will localize access to more care associated with trial participation, reducing the time and expense associated with travel. LLS’s Urgent Need Program, in partnership with Moppie’s Love and Charlie’s Fund, Co-Pay Assistance Program, and Susan Lang Pay-It-Forward Patient Travel Assistance Program, all provide financial assistance supporting underserved patients.
LLS Clinical Trial Nurse Navigators, registered nurses with expertise in blood cancer, are available to personally assist all blood cancer patients and caregivers throughout the entire clinical-trial process.