LustgartenLIVE! Leading the Way: Lustgarten Equity, Accessibility and Diversity in Pancreatic Cancer Research and Why it Should Matter to You
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As the world’s leading pancreatic cancer research organization, we believe, like you, that everyone needs a seat at the table for us to achieve our mission of transforming pancreatic cancer into a curable disease. The American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) recently released its Cancer Disparities Progress Report 2022. While the AACR states that overall cancer incidence and mortality are declining across all groups, disparities across the cancer continuum remain a public health challenge, particularly in pancreatic cancer. The report cites the need for more funding, increased patient diversity in clinical trials, and a cancer research and care workforce that best reflects the communities they serve. We couldn’t agree more. The Lustgarten Foundation is supporting work to make clinical trials more inclusive. We strongly advocate for expanding and diversifying the talent pool working in research, while also having a better understanding of the biological mechanisms that might drive disparate outcomes in the lab and in the clinic to improve our knowledge of the disease and to accelerate the development of new therapies for all patients.
Webinar highlights include:
Encouraging Diversity in Research Talent and Clinical Trial Recruitment
Monique Phillips, Global People and Business Group Lead of the Black Organization of Leadership and Development (BOLD), Bristol Myers Squibb
“Not only does the research matter, but the researcher matters too.” BMS ensures all staff at clinical trial sites, and not just the principal investigators, mirror a broad cross-section of the community. Monique and her team also work with Historically Black Colleges and Universities to ensure a continuous pipeline of talented researchers.
BMS has committed to improving diversity in clinical trials by opening trial sites in areas with diverse populations and taking steps to make sure people from all backgrounds are included in trials. Monique found that patients from minority backgrounds and white patients agree to participate in clinical trials at similar rates; however, there is a substantial difference in the rates in which diverse groups of people are asked to participate. She also noted that rates of clinical trial involvement increase when healthcare providers and patients have a shared racial identity.
Lustgarten Foundation Career Development Award for Pancreatic Cancer Research in Honor of John Robert Lewis
In 2021, the Lustgarten Foundation launched the Career Development Awards to honor two American icons lost to pancreatic cancer—Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Congressman John Robert Lewis. These awards will support and increase the number of early-career women and underrepresented scientists receiving funding for pancreatic cancer research. The awards support trailblazing investigators committed to increasing our understanding and treatment of pancreatic cancer.
Avery Posey, Jr., PhD, Assistant Professor, Department of Systems Pharmacology & Translational Therapeutics, Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, 2021 Recipient of the Lustgarten Foundation Career Development Award for Pancreatic Cancer Research in Honor of John Robert Lewis
Dr. Posey noted that over the last two years, there has been an increased interest and focus on health equity, including growth in community partnerships to encourage clinical trial participation. Research centers also are paying closer attention by providing travel to high-volume medical centers for patients living in isolated locations; enhancing workforce diversity; expanding funding opportunities for early-stage and underrepresented minority researchers; and launching programs to recruit and train talented young scientists.
Dr. Posey is encouraged by recent immunotherapy-related studies for pancreatic cancer. One study found checkpoint inhibitors combined with chemotherapy could increase survival compared to chemotherapy alone. A second study targeted KRAS, a gene mutated in more than 90% of pancreatic cancer cases, and treatment caused tumors to shrink. Dr. Posey underscored the importance of making these therapies both affordable and accessible to diverse populations. “I’m hopeful our collective motivation to decrease disparities will remain part of our new normal in this post-pandemic world,” he said.
Dr. Edwin Manuel, Assistant Professor, Department of Immuno-Oncology, Beckman Research Institute, City of Hope, 2022 Recipient of the Lustgarten Foundation Career Development Award for Pancreatic Cancer Research in Honor of John Robert Lewis
After losing his mentor to pancreatic cancer, Dr. Manuel’s research focus pivoted from marine biology and virology to developing new methods to combat pancreatic cancer therapeutic resistance and adaptation. He is capitalizing on the effectiveness of salmonella bacteria to colonize solid tumors, including pancreatic tumors. He and his team have armed the salmonella with circular pieces of DNA called plasmids that either target proteins of interest, like immunosuppressive proteins, or functional enzymes to degrade proteins within the tumor microenvironment, leading to an increase in delivery of treatment directly to the tumor.
Dr. Manuel uses salmonella bacteria to penetrate the protective shell—or stroma—around the pancreatic tumor and the fibrous tissue surrounding the tumor cells. He combines treatment with bacteria and the current standard-of-care therapy to see if they can work synergistically to treat pancreatic cancer. He also is researching nutrient uptake, using enzymes to block the pancreatic tumor from “hijacking” the process of taking nutrients.
Dr. Manuel is grateful to pursue his research through the 2022 Career Development Award. “I’d like to pay tribute to John Lewis, who was not just an instrumental figure in history, but also an inspiration to all of us. I can only hope to follow or try to follow in his footsteps.”
Expanding Company-Wide DE&I Initiatives
Monica De Abadal, SVP and Head of North America Medical Affairs, Ipsen
By focusing on increasing diversity and fostering an inclusive culture, talented people choose to work at Ipsen, leading to better decision-making, innovative solutions and a commitment to center work in areas that truly matter to patients. In 2021, Ipsen launched a Global DE&I Council representing all of Ipsen’s business functions across different geographic and cultural backgrounds. Commitment to DE&I also extends to ensuring underserved populations consistently have access to healthcare, including clinical trials.
Addressing the Genomic Basis for Disparities in Pancreatic Cancer in African American Patients
Howard Crawford, MD, Scientific Director, Henry Ford Pancreatic Cancer Center
Funding from the Lustgarten Foundation has served as a catalyst for important research on how pancreatic cancer affects African Americans and for attracting more researchers to focus on probing racial disparities in pancreatic cancer. Dr. Crawford is leading a Lustgarten-funded retrospective study analyzing stored tumor samples of 75 African American patients and 75 non-African American patients treated at Henry Ford Pancreatic Cancer Center, where 25%-30% of people diagnosed with the disease are African American. The study will determine if genomic and cellular differences account for the higher rates and poorer outcomes in African Americans. He is studying molecular subtypes of pancreatic cancer as well.
As a component of their research, Dr. Crawford and his team are examining the environment within the Detroit area and considering the neighborhoods where patients live as well as diet, as these factors can influence the incidence and progression of pancreatic cancer. “By studying racial disparities, we’re learning more about the biology of this exact tumor that we all want to conquer,” Dr. Crawford believes.
Thanks to support from ViewRay Technologies, the Lustgarten Foundation is establishing a pilot grant at Henry Ford Pancreatic Cancer Center for patients in the center’s catchment area in Detroit who have experienced barriers to accessing treatment.
Increasing Diversity in Clinical Trials Benefits ALL Patients
Nina Garambone, MPH, CCRC, Senior Manager, Clinical Research, Northwell Health Cancer Center
Nina works with the multidisciplinary committee to ensure Northwell Health, New York State’s largest healthcare provider, is offering clinical trial opportunities to all eligible patients across all of the communities they serve and making medical information in many languages accessible for patients and family members. She and her team recognize that diversity in clinical trials benefits everyone and allows researchers to understand the entire population and make inroads in treatment. “It is hugely important that we ensure we have representation from diverse backgrounds to provide the most generalizable data for our population,” she noted. This representation also encompasses age, biological sex and life experience, as these factors can influence the risk of developing diseases.
“We know research produces real results and is the only way to accelerate progress in pancreatic cancer research and provide the potential for more tomorrows for all patients, across all backgrounds,” said Linda Tantawi, Lustgarten’s CEO. By supporting diverse researchers and pancreatic cancer patients across all groups, in the lab and in the clinic, the Lustgarten Foundation will improve the nuanced understanding of the disease and accelerate development of new therapies for all patients. Learn more about Lustgarten’s commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion. To watch the webinar, visit our YouTube channel.