Of The Persistent Racial Disparities — In Immuno-Oncology Clinical Trial Participation — NYT, At Midday

life-mrk-12-2-2106With yet another of my elderly relatives facing precisely this dilemma — and trying to get her into one of the ongoing trials here in Chicago (either Merck’s, BMS’s or even late comer Roche’s) — I am quite acutely aware of this persistent racial disparity. [In fact, for essentially all of my adult working life, I always have been — going back to the early days of kidney drugs, in the late 1980s.] General backgrounder, here.

In fairness, a broad array of factors likely cause this unhappy state of affairs. But I strongly suspect at least this one brilliant, strong, proud black matriarch might live to see quite a few more quality Christmases, if we can get her into one of these trials. For now though, her prognosis is. . . . three to six months.

Just go read it all — trust me.

. . . .As immunotherapy research takes off, the patients getting the treatment have been overwhelmingly white. Researchers know this and say they are trying to correct it. . . .

Mr. Jones, 45, has an aggressive type of Hodgkin’s lymphoma that resists the usual therapies. At the start of his most recent clinical trial, his life expectancy was measured in months. That was more than three years ago. He received a drug that helped his immune system fight cancer — a type of immunotherapy, the hottest area in cancer research and treatment.

“I’ve been over 12 months now with no treatment at all,” he said. “I walk half-marathons.”

Mr. Jones is one of many patients who have benefited from lifesaving advances in immunotherapy. But he’s an outlier: He is African-American. As money pours into immunotherapy research and promising results multiply, patients getting the new treatments in studies have been overwhelmingly white. Minority participation in most clinical trials is low, often out of proportion with the groups’ numbers in the general population and their cancer rates. Many researchers acknowledge the imbalance, and say they are trying to correct it.

Two major studies of immunotherapy last year starkly illustrate the problem. The drug being tested was nivolumab, a type of checkpoint inhibitor, one of the most promising drug classes for cancer. In both studies, patients taking it lived significantly longer than those given chemotherapy. . . .

And. . . with that, I will call it time for the Christmas break. Be excellent to one another, far and wide — smiling. . . .travel well; do travel light. Pax tecum.



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