Sunday, December 25, 2016

Blacks, Hispanics, Asians lose 'huge advantages'

Minorities underrepresented in drugmaker-sponsored clinical trials on immunotherapy

Cancer patients who are people of color apparently are disproportionately being left out of experimental trials on immunotherapy.

According to a piece by Denise Grady last week in The New York Times, researchers are aware folks getting the treatments "have been overwhelmingly white."

But scientists claim they're trying to remedy the situation.

Some cancer centers are attempting to bring the trials to black, Hispanic and Asian patients instead of making those potential clinical trial participants come to them.

Immunotherapy, which the article calls "the hottest area in cancer research and treatment," involves drugs that help immune systems fight cancer.

The Times piece focuses on two major 2015 studies of "nivolumab, a type of checkpoint inhibitor, one of the most promising drug classes for cancer," and says that "patients taking it [in both tests] lived significantly longer than those given chemotherapy."

In the first case, 92 percent of the patients were white; 88 percent were in the second. Census figures for 2015 show Caucasians make up only 77 percent of the U.S. population.

According to the Times piece, researchers say studies of nivolumab may omit minority patients "because it can take longer to find and enroll them," an obstacle disliked by drug makers such as Bristol-Myers Squibb, which financed the lung and kidney studies of that particular med.

Testers, the Times article notes, claim that one major cause of the problem is that "people in minority groups tend to have lower incomes and less education, and therefore less awareness of medical studies and how to find them."

Another reason may be that many live in areas that don't have easy access to a prime cancer center.

Dr. Julie R. Brahmer
Moreover, the piece goes on to quote Dr. Julie R. Brahmer of the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center as saying, "minority patients with cancer are more likely to have other, poorly controlled chronic diseases like diabetes, that make them ineligible for studies."

In addition, some financial hurdles may be impossible to surmount — "frequent trips to the hospital, requiring time off work and expenses for travel, parking and child care. Some doctors simply assume that lower-income, minority patients could not afford it."

The irony, the Times indicates, is that clinical trials, which usually provide expensive drugs and treatments without charge, "can be a lifeline" that offer "huge advantages" such as "new treatments that may otherwise be unavailable."

Information about cancer research can be found in "Rollercoaster: How a man can survive his partner's breast cancer," a VitalityPress book I, Woody Weingarten, aimed at male caregivers.

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